It’s possibly a rare statement among people my age nowadays, but I am not embarrassed for voting Conservative in the last election. I was entranced at the thought of a libertarian Prime Minister, one who in his once authentic buffoonish style, relished the idea of personal freedom and national sovereignty once and for all. One who, in 2019, surpassed all expectations by winning a mandate to implement constitutional change that a decade ago seemed laughable among his own party.
This Conservative government has not made me embarrassed about conservatism in the least, only ashamed of the distortion and expulsion of its key values from those who promised to protect it.
Aside from the integral straying of conservative principles over lockdowns, Boris’ government has seemingly flirted with another bullying force on the international playground, one that represents the exact lack of accountability and bureaucratic structure we voted to escape in 2016: The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been an ever-present force in our lives throughout the pandemic, first with Covid, now over its obsession with banning e-cigarettes.
Brexit facilitated the very opportunity for Boris Johnson to defy the WHO over its arbitrary and, frankly, harmful policy direction. Some steps are being taken in the right direction, like the NHS paving the way for e-cigarettes prescriptions to help people stop smoking. But so far the UK has refused to rule out the WHO’s recommendation that the UK, among other countries, ban the sale of ‘open vapes’; ie, any device where you refill the tank with e-liquid yourself, rather than consistently buying new ‘closed’ vape pens after you’ve chucked your last one away. Boris is scheduled to take a stance on this at the much anticipated COP26 in Glasgow week after next. The beneficial stance is to utterly reject it.
If the WHO has recommended this to try and prevent vapers from putting illegal strengths of nicotine in their devices, this policy will prove asinine. You can buy illegal strength nicotine salts bottles, as well as illegal closed vape pens, anywhere on the dark web. If these products are made illegal, demand will just shift to potentially toxic black market products. Closed, disposable vape pens, such as ‘puff-bars’ have also been the subject of regulatory problems, a further problem in itself as these are extremely popular among younger vapers. Additionally, closed vape pens are a far less sustainable option. They can be less value for money, plastic and far less durable. My vape, a trusty ‘open’ vape, has served me well for 8 months or so, whilst I see some friends buying a new ‘closed’ vape pen every week.
The element of personal choice comes into this as well. With an open vape like mine, I can be very selective with my nicotine strength and flavour, as well as where it comes from. For most ex-smokers, having these choices or not can be the difference between quitting successfully or falling back into bad habits. No amount of emotive rhetoric from the WHO can change that.
If COP26 is to prove useful in any way, currently doubtful due to the absence of two of the world’s biggest polluters, it should be for Boris to vehemently defy the presence of the WHO as an undemocratic international force with dodgy funding initiatives, trying to interfere with our national sovereignty. Yes, we have lessons to learn on vaping, no one can deny. But it is safer than smoking. It needs just the right amount of regulation so people are guaranteed safety in the choices they make when they decide to quit smoking.
This is not to say that it is all doom and gloom. Our legislature is populated with MPs thinking along the exact same lines. The Rt Hon David Jones, for example, has expressed the importance of using COP26 to assert our “newly independent voice” and rethinking our approach towards tobacco harm reduction. We have clever, down to earth politicians at the heart of our policy delivery room. Boris would do well to listen.
The UK is also in the best position to start asserting itself. Unlike countries such as Mexico who somewhat rely on the WHO funding for their healthcare initiatives, we fund the WHO £340mn every year with tax-payers money. Boris is well within his strategic boundaries to be forceful, even indignant, over the vaping conundrum. If he stands as a strong leader on the world stage, a symbol for Post-Brexit Britain, other countries might just follow suit. At least then COP26 might be remembered for a small, but notable, return to the Boris voters had hoped for in 2019.