LONDON — Electronic cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking, an independent review published by governmental agency Public Health England (PHE) has concluded.
Key findings of the review include:
- The current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking.
- Nearly half the population (44.8%) doesn’t realize e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking.
- There is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.
The review, commissioned by PHE and led by Professor Ann McNeill, King’s College London, and Professor Peter Hajek, Queen Mary University of London, suggests that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people. Following the review PHE has published a paper on the implications of the evidence for policy and practice.
The comprehensive review of the evidence finds that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in Great Britain are current or ex-smokers, most of whom are using the devices to help them quit smoking or to prevent them going back to cigarettes. It also provides reassurance that very few adults and young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette users (less than 1% in each group).
The review raises concerns, however, that increasing numbers of people think e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful than smoking (22.1% in 2015, up from 8.1% in 2013: ASH Smokefree GB survey) or don’t know (22.7% in 2015, ASH Smokefree GB survey).
Despite this trend all current evidence finds that e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoking.
Emerging evidence suggests smokers who use e-cigarettes and also receive additional support from their local stop-smoking services are among those with the highest successful quit rates, PHE said.
E-cigarettes are not completely risk free, said PHE, but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting, it said.
“Local stop-smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely,” the agency said.
“There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are undermining England’s falling smoking rates,” said McNeill. “Instead, the evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking, and in my view, smokers should try vaping and vapers should stop smoking entirely.”
PHE said “e-cigarettes could be a game changer in public health in particular by reducing the enormous health inequalities caused by smoking.”
“My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health. Smokers differ in their needs and I would advise them not to give up on e-cigarettes if they do not like the first one they try. It may take some experimentation with different products and e-liquids to find the right one,” sad Hajek.
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s expert in cancer prevention, said, “Fears that e-cigarettes have made smoking seem normal again or even led to people taking up tobacco smoking are not so far being realized based on the evidence assessed by this important independent review. In fact, the overall evidence points to e-cigarettes actually helping people to give up smoking tobacco.”
Click here to view the full reports.