As the much-expected news of Boris Johnson becoming the new Prime Minister was confirmed recently, his views on all manner of subjects have come into question from all sections of society. However, not much has been made out of his opinion towards vaping, and in particular his stance on tobacco harm reduction.
Obviously, with the expected Brexit deadline of 31st October looming on the horizon as his main concern, the topics of smoking and vaping have no doubt taken a back seat, yet with the delay and subsequent bizarre release of the so-called ‘Prevention Green Paper’, has Boris already let the cat out of the bag on what the future holds for vaping. We aim to look at what direction the vaping industry could take in the hands of Boris and where his loyalties may really lie.
It’s pretty fair to say, at the minute the vaping industry is as healthy and prosperous as it ever has been. More and more people are turning towards vaping as a viably less harmful alternative to smoking tobacco, highlighted by the consistent advocation of public health bodies, such as PHE, NHS, Cancer Research and The British Lung Foundation, campaigning for people to make the switch.
Furthermore, the recent news that NHS Trust hospitals have taken the huge step in opening vape stores in a number of their West Midlands branches, to help fight the severe burn that smokers put in the NHS funding pocket. Along with this, the particular hospitals have also announced a clamp down of smoking on their premises, with the confirmation of a £50 fine for smokers who light up on the grounds. This was further supported by the transformation of smoking shelters being turned into vape-only spaces, a gigantic milestone in the government initiative to help achieve a smoke-free society by 2030, with an adult prevalence of 5% or less.
Having said that, the much-discussed Prevention Green Paper is a campaign set up by government to improve the health and wellbeing of UK citizens. The full disclosure of the initiative was due in the first half of 2019, however it was eventually released late on Monday evening (22nd July 2019) under shadowy circumstances. This was done without any alert to the media nor a press release outlining its existence, despite the hyping up of the planned proposals, by the cabinet in the months preceding.
The Green Paper was widely expected to include further restrictions and higher taxes on so-called ‘sin’ products, such as sugary drinks including energy drinks and milkshakes, as well as forcing tobacco firms to pay a levy towards the treatment of people who develop smoking-related illnesses. Mr Johnson, however, claimed he was going to reconsider these extensions, days before the paper was alleged to be released by the Health Secretary and self-proclaimed Boris supporter, Matt Hancock. In the aftermath of the surprise release of the set of proposals by Theresa May, on the eve of handing over the reigns of the country to her former Foreign Secretary Johnson, there was an alleged heated altercation between Hancock and May. This was regarding the timing and manner of the subdued announcement. All of this was of course played down and dodged when asked for comment.
It will be of no surprise if Johnson chooses to revise the Prevention Green Paper in the months coming, where the possible exemption of the tobacco companies levy may come into play.
Following this, it can’t be argued that the news of Johnson’s campaign manager Mark Fulbrook’s interaction with contracted councillors of the tobacco giant Phillip Morris, the future of the Prevention Green Paper as well as vaping as a whole, are of grave concern. Although the multinational tobacco merchants have recently made inroads into the vaping market, they are still first and foremost a tobacco enterprise, who make the bulk majority of their profit from smokers.
The leaked emails show Fulbrook’s lobbying firm CTFP (Crosby Textor Fullbrook Partners), asking for Phillip Morris to undertake voluntary moves to curb cigarette smoking, rather than sanctioned efforts to scrutinise a company whose main objective is to sell products which induce the most preventable cause of death worldwide. The emails were dated back to April 2019, when Fulbrook was still a longstanding partner with the firm, before his temporary leave to take up the role as Johnson’s campaign manager.
Although this may seem harmless on the surface, there is a growing apprehension from anti-tobacco campaign groups that an influencing conflict of interest will take place. This will result in tobacco companies ultimately having control of political and social legislation in the not so distant future.
This unease was further supported by Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action On Smoking and Health (ASH), who pushed the new Prime Minister, “not to remove the proposal for a charge on tobacco manufacturers to fund government’s anti-smoking measures.” She also noted that, “this is popular with the public, including conservative voters, but it’s not what the tobacco industry wants.”
The fact that such huge bodies such as PHE and the NHS promote vaping so profoundly, as a successful cessation method, ultimately forces Johnson’s hand not to scrutinise or go against vaping that heavily, yet his alleged cosy relationship with the major tobacco giants cannot be underestimated.
Only time will tell which direction the new Prime Minister will play this and whether or not he undertakes a revision of the Prevention Green Paper proposals, one of the last acts carried out by Theresa May as the nation's leader. Just don’t be surprised if Boris suddenly comes to the rescue of the tobacco industry, stranger things have happened.
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