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RSM public health experts respond to vaping tax announcement

Professor Maggie Rae, President, and Dr Nicola Stingelin-Giles, council member, of the Epidemiology & Public Health Section, Royal Society of Medicine, respond to the announcement of a tax on vaping in the Spring Budget 2024.

Smoking tobacco is the biggest cause of entirely preventable illness and death in the UK. Helping people stop smoking is one of the best things we can do for people’s health and, therefore, is a public health priority.  

Vapes, or e-cigarettes, that contain nicotine can be effective tools to aid this. While vaping is not risk-free, and more research is needed to fully understand the health effects, the harms are known to be substantially less than those of smoking tobacco.  

The rise in uptake of vaping amongst non-smokers – and particularly children and young people - is an area of huge concern and we welcome efforts to address this. These include the proposed ban on disposable vapes, and restrictions on flavours and packaging, aimed directly at making vaping less attractive for younger people.  

But it’s imperative we ensure medicinal use of vapes to aid people to stop smoking continues to be encouraged, as smoking cessation remains the matter of greater importance. 

Introducing a tax which makes vaping more expensive must be carefully considered to ensure the positives are not outweighed by any resulting harmful effects on health, especially where there is a risk of widening inequity in our society. It’s important we focus smoking cessation efforts on helping those people in the most at-risk groups who stand to lose the most. 

This is a complex area with no easy decisions, but the primary goal has to be delivering the greatest health benefits for the public. We welcome the debate on the best means of doing this. 

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