Two hospitals in England have allowed an e-cigarette company to open vape shops on their premises as part of a move by the hospitals to ban smoking in and around their buildings. Ashtrays have been removed from the hospitals’ outdoor smoking areas, and anyone caught smoking on the premises faces a fine of 50 pounds, or $62. The use of e-cigarettes is allowed on the hospitals’ grounds, aside from near doorways, and former smoking shelters have been turned into vaping areas.
Despite the growing prevalence and popularity of vaping around the world, the practice has met with criticism. Saying that e-cigarettes were creating a nicotine epidemic among teenagers, San Francisco last month banned their sale entirely. Critics of the products in the United States say they are becoming the tobacco industry’s new way to hook teenagers.
But in Britain, public health officials have embraced the use of e-cigarettes as effective for people who want to quit smoking. An independent report on e-cigarettes published last year by England’s public health agency concluded that vaping posed “only a small fraction of the risks of smoking” and that switching completely to vaping brought “substantial health benefits.”
The agency, Public Health England, subsequently recommended that e-cigarettes be available for sale in hospital shops to help create a smoke-free environment and to encourage patients and employees to quit smoking.
The opening of vape shops in medical facilities draws a stark contrast to how vaping is viewed in the US. A US hospital would never allow a vape shop to open on its premises. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still maintains that e-cigarettes are harmful to general public health, rejecting the existing evidence.
During his tenure as commissioner of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb helped to manufacture hysteria about young people vaping. Federal data does show that millions of young people have tried e-cigarettes. But this has been construed by Gottlieb, other top-level Trump appointees, the tobacco-control movement and the media as something far worse than it actually is. Countless analyses of the data show no corresponding proof that millions of young people are addicted to e-cigs. While curtailing underage uptake of e-cigarettes is essential, the US has still failed to find a balance in regulation.
Public Health England bases its approach to vaping on products’ relative risk to human health. While England still has a relatively advanced regulatory regime surrounding the e-cigarette market, it is not hampering the benefits e-cigs can bring. The FDA, by contrast, is promoting hysteria about vaping and damaging public health in the process.