Tuesday, 1 December 2015

An Open Letter to Assembly Members

Dear Assembly Members,

Next week (8th December) you are going to get the opportunity to debate the contents of the Public Health (Wales) Bill. As you will be aware, certain aspects of the Bill have proved to very contentious from the outset. This has been exacerbated by events that transpired as the Bill passed through the scrutiny of the Health & Social Care Committee.

The HSCC has now released its report of the scrutiny of the Public Health (Wales) Bill. The majority of the report reveals widespread cross-party support for most of the aims of the Bill. However, it also showed a deep divide over the issue of eCigarettes.

The Welsh Government has provided no credible evidence to proceed with the ban. In fact, during the evidence sessions several organisations comprehensively dismantled and dismissed what little evidence the Welsh Government did produce. Opinions were heard from a number of sources (though not from vapers themselves).

Compelling positions against the proposals to ban eCigarettes in enclosed public spaces came, in person, from the likes of ASH Wales, Cancer Research UK, Royal College of Physicians, Public Health England (through Prof Peter Hajek) and Professor John Britton (Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies) during the evidence sessions. All of these organisations/people have conducted extensive peer-reviewed and published research and studies into the effects of eCigarettes.

Substantial more evidence against any ban on eCigarettes was also received from a variety of well-respected organisations in written format.

It should be obvious that there is no credible evidence for implementing a ban on eCigarettes and those AM’s who sit with their fingers in their ears ignoring the evidence are doing a serious disservice to the lives and health of not only vapers and their families, but also smokers (the potential vapers of the future) and their families. Today, in eCigarettes, we have an innovation that offers a genuine (and healthier) alternative to lit tobacco. It is a phenomenon widely recognised by the leading scientists and public health professionals across the world. The recent report published by Public Health England recognised that eCigarettes are at least 95% safer than using lit tobacco. Yet here in Wales, we have a Health Minister that wants to ban the use of eCigarettes in enclosed public spaces and places of work based on his own ideology and misunderstanding of the science.

As one of the estimated 240,000 Welsh vapers who has successfully quit smoking through the use of an eCigarette, I implore all AM’s to look at the evidence and vote with the science, not by blind loyalty to a party (or Health Minister) who simply is unable to understand the science behind eCigarettes. I tried time and time again to quit using many or all of the recommended methods, services, and products, and failed. With eCigarettes I succeeded, and my friends and family are delighted that my success will result in my being around for a long time to come. Thanks to vaping, I have been smoke-free for almost 5 years. This should be a cause for celebration.

Do not take away the opportunity I had to quit smoking, from others who have yet to make the switch. By banning vaping in public enclosed spaces, you will be removing their opportunity to meet with vapers and learn all about this life-saving device. I have lost count of the number of smokers who have approached me in pubs and clubs, on the streets and even in vape shops, curious to learn of my experiences with vaping and how it all works. A great many of them have now also kicked their smoking habit thanks to discovering vaping. I can assert with confidence that by banning vaping in public enclosed spaces, you will be taking away the opportunity of smokers to learn of the benefits of switching to vaping.

Nothing in life is risk-free. Even the drinking water that comes through our taps holds chemicals and risk. Mark Drakeford keeps asserting that we do not have enough evidence and that he is following the precautionary principle. This  is a very misguided policy to be following. In the 1980’s, we did not have the level of science on condoms and safer-sex that we have right now for eCigarettes. But most in Public Health agreed that the precautionary principle applied there. So what is different about eCigarettes ? A lifeboat is most certainly not 100% risk-free, but how many of us would refuse to use one if the ship in which we were sailing was about to sink causing certain death ?

Many of us had resigned ourselves to smoking for the rest of our lives, having failed on so many previous occasions. But then we found vaping and a new community of understanding and supportive friends.

I implore you. Go with the evidence, not with party loyalties. The evidence will clearly show you that eCigarettes save lives. If the ban goes ahead, significantly fewer smokers will switch to a less harmful alternative and many vapers will return to smoking. Is this really what you want to see ?

Open your eyes to the evidence and oppose the ban. You know in your hearts and minds that it is the right thing to do.