Consistently inconsistent

Readers will remember the “guidance” issued by Public Health England in a vague attempt to convince business owners, and other individuals that vaping in the workplace is not, in reality, such a bad thing, nor is it actually illegal. Folks will of course remember this post from Vapers in Power about banning smoking AND vaping on a beach. There is of course, this one where Nottinghamshire went beyond insanity and banned smoking AND vaping on any and all council owned property – including outside. I had a few words to say about that too.

Y’see, getting folks to change their mind on banning vaping in public places should be fairly straightforward right, or at least you’d think so. After all, there’s a substantial amount of evidence to support not banning it. But hey, if you’re in power who needs evidence? As demonstrated last month when Simon Cooke tried to introduce a more enlightened approach to vaping in Bradford. Simon wrote an article detailing just how far removed his fellow council members were as they put forward some daft and contrived justifications in order to dismiss the idea entirely.

To be fair, Bradford City Council aren’t the only ones with a backwards view on vaping. Per a report published today by Freedom to Vape it is depressingly clear that absolute ignorance, crass fuckwittery, crass snobbery and prejudice abounds with regards to e-cigs. Of course, remember that ‘public health’ decisions have, unsuccessfully, been devolved to the local authorities, but it does take an undue amount of knuckle dragging to ignore some pretty clear guidance from their masters in Public Health England. Considering that we have their evidence update (August 2015), NCSCT guidance (February 2016), the Royal College of Physicians (April 2016) and again PHE with their guidance on vaping in workplaces (July 2016):

Now, to summarise the PHE guidance (which I still view as plain old common bloody sense):

  1. Make clear the distinction between vaping and smoking
  2. Ensure policies are informed by the evidence on health risks to bystanders
  3. Identify and manage risks of uptake by children and young people
  4. Support smokers to stop smoking and stay smokefree
  5. Support compliance with smokefree law and policies

I had a fair number of words to say about those points in a previous post and I stand by them. There are no health risks to bystanders, young people will no doubt try them so I see no point truly worrying about that. Smokers can, and always will, do what they want – that’s the beauty of freedom of choice. With those points in mind, you’d expect that the UK Local Authorities would be uniform in their approach to the whole thing wouldn’t you?

Bet you’re not entirely surprised to find out that they aren’t.

Y’see, The Freedom Association asked every single council (district, county, unitary, metropolitan, London boroughs and the City of London) if their policies on the use of e-cigarettes differed from smoking policies. If they allowed vaping at all in the workplace (be it in a separate room as the media were wrong to point out after the guidance from PHE had been released) or if vapers had to go to designated smoking shelters, the full report lists their findings and unfortunately the vast majority of local authorities do not come away as shining examples.

Out of all the FOI requests to the councils, 386 responded.

  • 112 of those councils require vapers to use designated smoking areas in all or some circumstances.
  • 335 councils have the same, or effectively the same policy on vaping as they do on smoking
  • One council allows vaping indoors and actively encourages staff to vape
  • Three councils allow vaping at desks, but only because there isn’t a policy in place

The report details each council and lists some of the most egregious excuses to implement restrictions, but of course the most prevalent is the one where councils simply can’t be bothered to listen to their masters or the people they serve. Marvellous how these councils kow-tow to Orwellian measures from “public health” to restrict smoking wherever possible, or to implement other nonsensical measures yet in this instance, these councils have decided, by and large to ignore the PHE Guidance.

The results show that the vast majority (333) fail to make a clear distinction between vaping and smoking. Their policies on smoking and vaping are the same. They also show their ignorance with many references to “smoking” e-cigarettes.

Amusingly, my own local council – the moronic fuckwits that they are – states that the “same procedures apply to both types of smoking”. Which of course means, by vaping at my desk I’m not only a naughty boy for vaping in the eyes of my council, I’m also going against the workplace ban. Well tough chuff folks. My boss has allowed it – which, at the end of the day, is all that bloody matters.

Some councils are openly hostile to vaping. Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire states that it ‘supports the aim of “de-normalising” smoking. The Council supports the tobacco control professionals who consider that the acceptance of e-cigarettes will undermine the now widely accepted view that smoking is unacceptable.’ The professionals they are listening to are clearly not from PHE.

Given where Calderdale is, I’m not entirely unsurprised by their stance. After all, there’s a certain VP for Health Policy of a certain public health charity that considers vaping to be devil spawn. He hates sugar too.

The second principle PHE stated was to “ensure policies are informed by the evidence on health risks to bystanders”. In a report published on 9 August 2016, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology stated that ‘current evidence shows that levels of nicotine and contaminants released via exhaled vapour are negligible.’ The same report also mentions that, worryingly, public perceptions of harm are changing: 25 per cent of the UK public think that e-cigarettes present a risk of harm similar to that of tobacco smoking, compared with 7 per cent in 2013.

Councils may not wish to have arguments with staff about whether or not it is safe to allow indoor vaping, however, the policies they formulate should be evidence based – not based on ignorance or prejudice.

Given how often, and how badly vaping is portrayed in the media it should be no surprise that the public perceptions have changed. At the E-Cigarette Summit last year Professor Hajek went over how the public views vaping (based on data from 2014). Thanks to a lot of hyperbole, sensationalisation and exaggeration from the media – usually as a result of some crackpot “study” from the United States, the public in general now view e-cigarettes in a more negative light. Some more volume from our allies would be nice, but I won’t hold my breath.

By simply executing a blanket ban, the majority of councils have buried their heads in the sand, hoping that a perceived problem will disappear.

Sadly this approach is all too common. A blanket ban isn’t just a case of the respective council burying their head in the sand, it is usually a lack of understanding of the products. Moreso it is often a case of “it looks like smoking” – something that is all too common when policy makers come to look at e-cigarettes. But it goes further than that. When Mark Drakeford tried to include e-cigarettes in the Public Health (Wales) Bill to get them banned “wherever smoking is prohibited” sends the public entirely the wrong message that vaping is as harmful (or more so) than smoking.

Overall, the ignorance – or plain laziness – in the respective policy positions is astonishing. The report is damning enough, but do peruse exactly each councils views on vaping and you’ll discover just how lazy or ill-informed the people running the devolved “public health” really are. In the notes against each council is a highlight of the FOI responses received by Freedom to Vape, and many are bewildering. Nigh on all the lame excuses given to Simon Cooke in Bradford are present and in some cases are seemingly boastful that the council takes that view.

Aberdeenshire, Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire are incredibly proud of the fact they treat vaping in exactly the same way as smoking – although Cambridge takes the lead with:

The rules outlined in our policy also apply to vapour and electronic cigarettes. Use of these products at work is restricted as described in the policy. The Council does not provide amenities to aid or help employees to smoke. Therefore there are no designated areas to smoke or vape.

Caerphilly County states that “any reference made in this document to ‘smoke’ or ‘smoking’ includes conventional and e-cigarettes, cigars and pipes” and Chelmsford are the leaders when it comes to the annoyance (we just don’t like it) factor:

The Council’s rationale for prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes is that, although they do not produce smoke, electronic cigarettes produce a vapour that could provide an annoyance or health risk to other employees. In addition to this, some electronic cigarette models can, particularly from a  distance, look like real cigarettes, making the enforcement of a smoke free environment difficult to police, and creating an impression for visitors/customers/other employees that it is acceptable to smoke within the workplace.

Truly mind-boggling stuff and completely irrelevant, only demonstrating that their ‘public health’ departments have either not been consulted or (more likely) woefully incompetent. Northumberland County Council even use this point to explain why there’s a 30 metre exclusion zone around council buildings!

The number of councils that have extended their existing bans to include vaping is truly frightening. Considering these councils are often involved in education, perhaps someone from that department should take the time to look over their policies and explain – preferably in great, monotonous detail – how truly fucked up they are.

All in all, only the London Borough of Enfield can be considered to be the most vape friendly:

LB Enfield does not have a policy on the use of e-cigarettes. We accept the evidence that e-cigarettes can aid smokers to stop using tobacco and encourage this. LB Enfield does not have a policy on the use of e-cigarettes and there are no plans to introduce one.

Despite the reports from PHE, RCP, NCSCT, ASH, CRUK and all the other “allies” that are supportive, many councils are claiming to be reviewing their policies but have already decided that the ban will stay. Glasgow Council, bizarrely has issued a rule that e-cigs cannot be charged and asserts – rather proudly – that e-cigarettes are unregulated! Did they miss the memo on the TPD ?

What’s worse is a number of councils like Lancashire and Shropshire that cite the WHO doesn’t recommend them and therefore they are banned because of this. Stirling Council’s policy – reviewed February 2016 – states rather authoritatively that “there is insufficient evidence to prove they are safe for bystanders” – if I lived there there might be a ruckus, or a fracas brewing.

There’s a few, ahem, imaginative reasons for including e-cigarettes in the workplace ban:

not be allowed in the entrance way to any of the authorities buildings or within a distance from windows that would allow smoke to enter the building.

The Council supports the ethos of healthy living through not smoking and will actively seek to promote this image and practice. –Cheltenham Council (erm, what the actual fuck?! PB)

We do not encourage staff to use ecigarettes and provide information and contact details of smoking cessation groups. –East Sussex County Council (seriously?! PB)

Of course, there’s always one that is so utterly incredulous as to be unbelievable:

This COP also applies to the use of electronic cigarettes and aims to prevent exposure to the vapours they produce in the same way that exposure to tobacco smoke is prevented, which is in line with the guidance issued by Public Health England.

Stand up and be recognised Fenland District Council for todays Fuckwit Of The Week award. Utterly cretinous behaviour. The guidelines from Public Health England are clear as crystal:

E-cigarette use, known as vaping, is not covered by smokefree legislation. E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and do not create smoke.

Current smokefree legislation does not apply to vaping. How much clearer can it be?

The Freedom to Vape report highlights a quote from PHE which states, emphatically that “it is never acceptable to require vapers to share the same outdoor space with smokers” (which by the way I have no issue with sharing a smoking shelter – whether you agree with that or not is up to you), it is harshly damning that over 100 councils have completely disregarded that and demand that vapers are only allowed to use their devices in designated smoking areas (which also goes against the Health & Safety Executive advice). If ‘public health’ is to be further devolved to local authorities where they completely ignore any and all advice from those superior to them, what is the point in my tax going to their salaries?

Sadly, it isn’t just Bradford City Council that needs a sharp lesson, so I’m pretty sure that Simon Cooke and any other vape friendly councillor will be writing to PHE to get some tangible evidence to wrap around the heads of those that prefer to ban “because it looks like” something they don’t like. I’m also pretty sure that PHE would gleefully be writing stiff letters to the ignoramuses in the councils that treat vaping like smoking (against the guidance) and tell them to stop being so utterly moronic.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.