‘Risk-proportionate regulation’ key in vape industry regulation

A GLOBAL public health activist and advocate for tobacco harm reduction has urged policymakers to consider a “risk-proportionate regulation” strategy to regulate nicotine products such as vape.

Clive Bates(pix), a UK-based tobacco control expert, said that vape regulation is crucial, and governments must consider innovative approaches when implementing regulations.

“Regulation is critical. Bad regulation can block new technologies and stifle innovation. Good regulation can protect consumers, crack down on bad business practices, and encourage users to switch from high-risk to low-risk products,” he said.

“The right way to regulate nicotine products such as vape is through “risk-proportionate regulation”. This approach means that regulators impose restrictions in proportion to the risk to health posed by the product.”

“For example, traditional cigarettes would have bold graphic warnings, but vaping products would have more subtle messages about the value of switching..”

These insights were in response to a query from The Sun Daily on tobacco harm reduction strategies globally. THR refers to safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes like vaping.

There are many studies on tobacco harm reduction internationally. According to Bates, there are two type of important studies.

“First, studies that show much less risk from smoke-free nicotine products such as vaping products. These are typically biomarker studies that look at the level of toxicants in the blood, saliva or urine. These show that most of the chemicals that cause harm from smoking are either not present at detectable levels or present at much lower levels in smoke-free products. That is because most of the harm is caused by smoke – the products-of-combustion from burning tobacco leaf.

Second, studies that show that smoke-free products displace smoking in both adults and teenagers. For this finding, we draw on randomised controlled trials, observational data, population trends, market data, and the testimonies of users. All sources converge to show that smoking is driven down by vaping and other low-risk alternatives.”

Equally, there are many myths on vaping.

“For example, the myth that vaping is as harmful as smoking is just not true. From measuring much lower exposure to toxicants, we know that vaping is much less harmful beyond any reasonable doubt,” he added.

According to Bates, the best way to engage with the science is to consult scientific assessments like the series of Evidence Reviews produced by Public Health England (PHE) since 2015.

In its latest report, PHE confirmed that vaping is 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Further, in 2020, the report found that nicotine vaping products were the most popular smoking cessation aid in England – used by 27.2%, compared with 18.2% who used nicotine replacement therapy such as patches and gum, and 4.4% who used varenicline (a prescription medication used to treat nicotine addiction).

He added that it is very important to understand the difference between traditional ways of quitting smoking and switching to vaping with nicotine.

“Traditional quitting involves going from smoking to abstinence and using pharmaceuticals and psychological techniques to overcome craving and withdrawal. For many, this is difficult even if they really want to do it,” Bates said.

“The trouble is that many people don’t want to quit or don’t want it enough to go through the struggle. So, the idea of nicotine vaping is to replace one pleasure with another that has many of the same characteristics but much lower risk. Because switching to vaping involves giving up less, it is easier to do, and, therefore, many more people will be able to feel the health benefits.”