Let me tell you a tale of two countries.
In the United States, the Food & Drug Administration is at war with the nation’s vaping manufacturers and retailers. The agency has issued marketing denial orders for millions of products, effectively wiping out 99 percent of the U.S. vaping market. It has also gone after small business owners using the full power of the federal government, with the Department of Justice seeking injunctions against several companies that did not comply with the agency’s draconian review process.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service is preparing to give away e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking. The Royal College of Physicians has recommended that doctors and public health authorities promote vaping “as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking in the UK.” They’re even making vapes available to the prison population.
So why is the UK embracing vaping while U.S. regulators are on a warpath?
A higher proportion of the UK’s population, over 14 percent or 6.9 million adults, currently smoke cigarettes, compared to around 12.5 percent in the U.S. That puts a huge burden on England’s socialized National Health Service. Smoking costs the NHS an additional 3.6 billion pounds in health and social care costs.
So part of it is just the size of the problem. But that can’t be all of it.
The crucial difference is that health officials in England recognize that there is a continuum of risk and truly embrace the principle of harm reduction in its approach.
Because while the Democratic Party has long understood the benefits of harm reduction when it comes to other substances, they have been inexplicably obstinate in recognizing the massive potential of vaping to limit the damage done by combustible cigarettes. And while Republicans have traditionally been defenders of business owners and the scourge of over-regulators, most are loath to lift a finger to protect the entrepreneurs and mom-and-pops being crushed under the federal boot for the crime of trying to help people take charge of their health.
Unlike the U.S., UK officials are actually attempting to measure how many adults successfully use vaping to quit cigarettes. According to the latest data, in 2020, 27.2 percent of adults use vaping to quit. A study in 2017 found that vaping had already helped 50,000 to 70,000 adults quit smoking. And we expect that number has grown significantly in recent years.
While public officials and regulators in the U.S. pander to the handful of wealthy donors funding the majority of the anti-vaping smear campaigns, putting money before sound policy, the UK government is trying to lower its health care costs and save lives.
The FDA doesn’t seem to mind that 30 million American adults regularly smoke cigarettes, or that 480,000 die annually from a smoking-related illness, or that public health costs associated with cigarette smoking are estimated to be over $600 billion annually.
And the evidence for vaping’s efficacy as the most effective smoking cessation method continues to grow. A new systematic review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews looked at 78 studies representing 22,062 participants, including 40 randomized control trials, and concluded that “[t]here is high-certainty evidence that [e-cigarettes] with nicotine increase quit rates compared to [nicotine replacement therapy].”
These findings echo similar studies in premiere academic publications like the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Yet the FDA and its Center for Tobacco Products continue to deny this compelling evidence while stressing that they are simply “following the science” in denying hundreds of hard-working Americans their livelihoods and millions of Americans the right to switch to products that the U.K. recognizes as 95 percent safer.
Our friends on the Left often admire Britain’s health care system, while our friends on the Right argue that freedom of choice and freedom from stifling overregulation can drive life-changing innovation. How ironic then that both seem to be missing the story of the U.K.’s embrace of vaping, which seems to prove both of their points.