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a man vaping imageFebruary 7 2018

Public Health England has reiterated its endorsement of the use e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to tobacco products.


In its new report looking at the available evidence on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco, PHE makes a number of findings:

  • vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits;
  • e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits per year and possibly many more;
  • e-cigarette use is associated with improved quit success rates over the last year and an accelerated drop in smoking rates across the country;
  • many thousands of smokers incorrectly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking; around 40% of smokers have not even tried an e-cigarette;
  • there is much public misunderstanding about nicotine (less than 10% of adults understand that most of the harms to health from smoking are not caused by nicotine);
  • the use of e-cigarettes in the UK has plateaued over the last few years at just under 3 million;
  • the evidence does not support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people (youth smoking rates in the UK continue to decline, regular use is rare and is almost entirely confined to those who have smoked).

Professor John Newton, Director for Health Improvement at PHE said: “Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders. Yet over half of smokers either falsely believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or just don’t know.

“It would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about their safety.”

The Royal Society for Public Health has welcomed the report, noting that the proportion of vapers who continue to smoke has fallen year on year, dropping below 50% for the first time last year.

However, Shirley Cramer, the RSPH’s Chief executive, has warned: “Nonetheless, with many smokers now incorrectly believing vaping is at least as dangerous as smoking, it is clear there is vital work to be done in better communicating these positive messages to the public. For anyone who has struggled to quit smoking, we strongly recommend switching to an e-cigarette as it could substantially improve your chances of success – especially if combined with professional support from your local stop smoking service.”

Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, welcomed the announcement, saying it was important that recommendations and use of vaping devices continue to be underpinned by a robust evidence base.

“When e-cigarettes first became available in the UK, doctors highlighted a number concerns about the lack of evidence on the impact of their use, the variable quality and safety of e-cigarettes and e-liquids, yet as this review and other research shows there is now a growing body of evidence and widespread consensus that e-cigarettes are substantially safer than smoking,” she said.

“As this review recognises e-cigarettes are the most popular device used in attempts to quit smoking, they have the potential to play an important role in reducing the harms associated with smoking which leads to 79,000 deaths in England alone every year."

Links:
PHE announcement      
PHE Research and analysis. ‘E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products: evidence review’            
RSPH statement            
BMA statement            

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