What can Australia learn about vaping from England?
Posted on July 3, 2019
OK, they can't play cricket for nuts and Brexit is a mess, but smoking rates are falling in England nearly twice as fast as in Australia as record numbers of smokers take up vaping. Research also shows that vaping by non-smokers is rare.
These were the findings of the official review from the UK Office of National Statistics, released yesterday. The adult smoking rate (18+years) is now 14.4% in England. In Australia, 15.2% of adults smoked, according to the 2017-2018 ABS National Health Survey.
Most importantly the decline in smoking rates is much faster in England, at a rate of 0.77% per year since 2011 (19.8% in 2011 to 14.4% in 2018). In Australia, the decline in smoking rates has been only 0.45% per year since 2012 (17.9% in 2012 to 15.2% in 2018), according to the ABS National Health Survey. The adult smoking rate in the US is now 13.9% (NHIS 2018).
The rapid decline in smoking in the UK coincides with a dramatic rise of vaping.
In 2018, 6.3% of adults (3.2 million people) in the UK were vapers, the highest rate in the world. Of these, 61% had given up smoking completely (ie dual use has fallen to 39% of users). In Australia, only 1.2% of people vape due to legal restrictions.
The UK experience strongly supports the case for wider access to vaping in Australia and the regulation of nicotine as a consumer product.
Vaping by non-smokers is rare
The most common reason for vaping was as an aid to quitting smoking (52.8% of users).
Vaping is almost entirely confined to smokers, quashing concerns of significant uptake by non-smokers. In 2018, the proportion of vapers was highest among current cigarette smokers (15.0%) and ex-cigarette smokers (12.8%). Only 0.8% of people who have never smoked reported that they currently vape.
A recent report by ASH found that vaping by young people who have never smoked was rare. Only 0.8% of young never-smokers are current vaper, 0.1% vaped more than once a week and not a single never smoker reported vaping daily.
The lessons from the UK are clear
- Smoking rates are declining rapidly and vaping is likely to be a significant factor
- Vaping by adult non-smokers is rare
- Young people experiment with vaping but regular use is rare, especially in never-smokers
Concerns about vaping are not being realised in the UK, which has sensible regulations to protect young people and yet ensure access to smokers to a much safer and potentially life-saving substitute. Australia needs to urgently review its legislation on vaping. Smokers are dying while we are waiting.
Posted by Colin Mendelsohn, firstname.lastname@example.org