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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 6 March 2020

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Dear everyone


We are saddened to hear about the first death linked to coronavirus in the UK, and our thoughts and sympathies are with their family and friends at this difficult time.

The numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in England continue to rise and, as explained in the UK coronavirus action plan published on Tuesday, we are preparing for the delay phase. I cannot sufficiently acknowledge the work of thousands across PHE, local and national Government, and the NHS for the teamwork involved in stretching the containment phase for as long as possible. This has created time and space to prepare, and you will have seen the new public facing communications now live across the UK.

As our Secretary of State has consistently emphasised, this is a marathon and not a sprint and we are ready for that.


On Wednesday, we published our sixth independent evidence review on e-cigarettes. This finds that vaping has remained stable among adults and young people since the last report in 2019 and that public perceptions of the harms of vaping have continued to become more inaccurate, with over half of smokers believing that vaping is equally or more harmful than smoking. This is concerning, as it deters many smokers from switching to a far less harmful alternative. These misperceptions worsened sharply after the outbreak of lung injury in the US, which was subsequently confirmed to have been caused by an additive in cannabis vaping products rather than nicotine containing e-cigarettes.

Our advice remains that e-cigarettes are not risk free but far less harmful than smoking so if you do not smoke, do not start to vape but if you do smoke, you should quit quickly and completely and switching to an e-cigarette can help. You can read more here and about e-cigarettes in our blog.

Lower carbohydrate diets

There is arguably more controversy about nutrition and what constitutes a healthy diet than any other in public health, and one of these has been the contribution that a lower carbohydrate diet might make for people with type 2 diabetes.

In 2017, PHE asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) to clarify the evidence base on lower carbohydrate diets for adults with type 2 diabetes and yesterday, SACN published a consultation on its draft report. The draft results of a robust, systematic assessment of the available evidence find that for body weight there is no overall difference between lower and higher carbohydrate diets in the longer-term. For blood glucose levels, lower carbohydrate diets may have benefits over higher carbohydrate diets in the short term, but their longer-term effects are unclear.

The aim of this consultation, which closes on 30 April 2020, is to ensure the draft report has considered all the relevant evidence and to invite comments on these draft conclusions. Once SACN has considered all responses, it will publish its final report and make recommendations to Government, as well as research recommendations based on the gaps and limitations in the current evidence base.

Best wishes



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