A new review published by Public Health England (PHE), undertaken by independent tobacco experts has suggested that using e-cigarettes is 95% less harmful than smoking tobacco. The report suggests that because vaping offers a small fraction of the risks of smoking, that e-cigarettes should be made easier to licence as smoking cessation products, and that vaping shelters or rooms could be provided on NHS premises.
The report has been published on the Public Health England website, and is an update of the review published in 2015. It follows a recent report by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on e-cigarettes which also concluded that the products were likely to be far less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
The PHE report notes that the rise in the number of people using e-cigarettes has levelled out at just under 3 million people, most of whom were previously smokers, who have used the products to quit. The report’s authors suggest that misconceptions about the safety of e-cigarettes could be part of the reason why uptake has slowed. It showed that thousands of smokers believed that vaping was as harmful as smoking and also revealed that two in five smokers had not tried an e-cigarette. The report also notes that concerns previously voiced about e-cigarettes, that they could encourage non-smokers to take up vaping, have not materialised. It is rare that e-cigarettes are a route to smoking for young people and youth smoking is declining in the UK. People who vape are almost exclusively ex-smokers.
The group did warn against other products produced by tobacco companies which are heated rather than burnt. They suggested that it might not be possible to trust the tobacco companies’ results on the safety of these products.
The risks that smoking cigarettes pose, are due to the toxic chemicals in the smoke, rather than from the nicotine. There are a variety of ways to get nicotine, including gum, lozenges, nasal spray and e-cigarettes. PHE suggest that there should be easier ways to get e-cigarettes licensed as medical quit aids. This would allow GPs to provide the devices on medical prescription, enable e-cigarettes to be available with other nicotine replacement therapies in hospital shops and the removal of smoking shelters, which could be turned into vaping shelters. Smoking cessation services should offer behavioural support to smokers who want to quit tobacco with the help of e-cigarettes, and a new training course has been made available to health professionals. Evidence shows that the most effective way to quit smoking is to combine a local stop smoking service with the use of e-cigarettes.
79,000 people a year die as a result of smoking, in England. Over half of long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related disease, if they do not stop. Stopping smoking offers substantial health benefits, including an improvement in oral health, reduction in smoking-related symptoms, such as shortness of breath and coughing, carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in the blood return to normal, senses of smell and taste improving and the heart rate drops. Within a year of quitting, an ex-smoker cuts their risk of coronary heart disease by half. It will also improve the quality of life for loved ones, as they no longer breathe in second-hand smoke.
Public Health England, E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products: evidence review, February 2018