It’s been a decade since e-cigarettes first gained popularity in the UK. Since then, the types of devices available and the number of people using them have risen sharply.
And as the popularity levels of e-cigarettes grew, so did the debate around them.
The big selling point for e-cigarettes is they’re a way to help people stop smoking and reduce tobacco harm reduction from the biggest cause of cancer in the world, tobacco.
But it’s a balancing act. E-cigarettes contain nicotine and so it’s important to make sure that people who have never smoked, particularly young people, don’t start to use them.
Some studies have shown harmful effects of e-cigarette vapour. However, these are usually conducted on animals or cells in the lab, rather than in people. And the concentrations of e-cigarette vapour used are often much higher than people would be exposed to in real life.
Whilst these studies are useful to explore the potential effects of e-cigarettes, they shouldn’t be used to estimate real-world impact in humans.
The tone of the debate may also depend on where you live. In 2019, the US saw an outbreak of several thousand cases of respiratory illness and nearly 70 deaths linked to the use of vaping products. But again, headlines can be misleading, as these cases were due to contaminants in illegal products and not linked to regular vaping. There was no similar outbreak in the UK, and the chemicals of concern are banned.
Source: Cancer Research
Following reported deaths and disease in the US linked to vaping, see the RCP’s position statement on the differing situations in the US and UK and our continuing advice to current smokers that vaping is still far less harmful than smoking tobacco.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is most effective in helping people to stop smoking when used together with health professional input and support, but much less so when used on its own.
E-cigarettes are marketed as consumer products and are proving much more popular than NRT as a substitute and competitor for tobacco cigarettes.
E-cigarettes appear to be effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking.
There are concerns that e-cigarettes will increase tobacco smoking by renormalising the act of smoking, acting as a gateway to smoking in young people, and being used for temporary, not permanent, abstinence from smoking.
However, the available evidence to date indicates that e-cigarettes are being used almost exclusively as safer alternatives to smoked tobacco, by confirmed smokers who are trying to reduce harm to themselves or others from smoking, or to quit smoking completely.
In the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes, NRT and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking in the UK.
Source: Royal College of Physicians
An expert independent evidence review by Public Health England found that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful to health than tobacco and are effective as a tool to help smokers quit smoking. Vaping is a less harmful way to take in nicotine and the vapour contains few of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke – if they are present, they are at much lower levels. There is now also good evidence that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit and guidance to stop smoking services is that they should support people who want to quit this way.
Millions of people in the UK have successfully stopped smoking with the help of e-cigarettes. Your GP or stop smoking advisor should be able to advise you on how to use an e-cigarette to stop smoking, and how you can use them with other support to improve your chances of stopping smoking.
Source: British Lung Foundation
“E-cigarettes are new devices commonly used by smokers that deliver nicotine without tobacco, and are an effective way of reducing the harm caused. We welcome this report which says that e-cigarettes can be an effective aid to potentially reduce harm from smoking and lower the risk of death and disability.
“There are 2.6 million e-cigarette users in the UK, and many smokers are using them to help quit. Although more research is needed to establish the long term safety of e-cigarettes, they are likely to cause significantly less harm to your health than smoking tobacco.”
Earlier this year BHF funded research found that e-cigarettes have overtaken licensed nicotine replacement therapies such as NRT, gum or skin patches as the most popular form of support to stop smoking, and they continue to increase in popularity.
Source: British Heart Foundation
The latest data from several national studies of adults in England shows that:
- smoking prevalence in England in 2021 was between 12.7% and 14.9% depending on the survey, which equates to between 5.6 and 6.6 million adults who smoke
- vaping prevalence in England in 2021 was between 6.9% and 7.1%, depending on the survey, which equates to between 3.1 and 3.2 million adults who vape
- vaping prevalence among adults who have never smoked remained very low, at between 0.6% and 0.7% in 2021
- the popularity of disposable vaping products has increased among adults who vape, with 15.2% using them in 2022 compared with 2.2% in 2021
In 2021, only 34% of adults who smoked accurately believed that vaping was less harmful than smoking. Only 11% of adults who smoked knew that none or a small amount of the risks of smoking were due to nicotine. Inaccurate perceptions need to be addressed.
The evidence reviewed also suggests that:
- people’s perceptions about vaping harms can influence their subsequent vaping and smoking behaviour
- communicating accurate information about the relative harms of vaping can help to correct misperceptions of vaping, particularly among adults
- Interventions on absolute harms of vaping that aim to deter young people need to be carefully designed so they do not misinform people (particularly smokers) about the relative harms of smoking and vaping.
An expert independent evidence review by Public Health England (PHE) concludes that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking.
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%) don’t realise 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
Source: Public Health England
Will vaping help me stop smoking?
Many thousands of people in the UK have already stopped smoking with the help of an e-cigarette. There’s evidence that they can be effective.
A 2021 review found people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking, as well as having expert face-to-face support, can be up to twice as likely to succeed as people who used other nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum.
Using an e-cigarette can help you manage your nicotine cravings. To get the best out of it, make sure you’re using it as much as you need to and with the right strength of nicotine in your e-liquid.
You will not get the full benefit from vaping unless you stop smoking cigarettes completely.
How safe are e-cigarettes?
In the UK, e-cigarettes are tightly regulated for safety and quality.
Vaping is not completely risk-free, but it poses a small fraction of the risk of smoking cigarettes. The long-term risks of vaping are not yet clear.
E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.
The liquid and vapour contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at a much lower level.
What about risks from nicotine?
While nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, most of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has been widely used for many years to help people stop smoking and is a safe treatment.
Source: NHS Smoke-Free
I find it incredible that other countries are using false data (Or distorting facts to promote their own agenda) to promote the harms of vaping despite of all the evidence provided, vaping is the best tool to quit smoking for good and anti-vape advocates could spend their time better demonising tobacco, unless it’s their job to demonise vaping.
The UK government has set a target for England to be smoke-free by 2030, the target is to get tobacco smoke down to 5% of the population and promote vaping / e-cigarettes as a means to achieve this target, recognising the need for safer nicotine.
New economic analysis of national data for ASH finds the cost of smoking to society is significantly higher than previous estimates have shown. Commissioned by charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) the new figures show the cost of smoking to society totals £17.04bn for England each year. This compares to £12.5bn under the previous estimate.
Cost of vaping to the NHS = Zero
Can you spot the difference between tobacco smoke and vaping?
50% of smokers will die of a smoking related disease, this is an undisputed fact.
Have you seen someone die of lung cancer or COPD? If you have and still advocate for banning vaping you are part of the problem, not the solution.
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