Health and Medicine

E-Cigarettes "Around 95% Less Harmful" Than Regular Smoking

August 19, 2015 | by Josh L Davis

Photo credit: The uptake of e-cigarettes over the past decade has been massive, with 2.6 million users in the U.K. alone. librakv/Shutterstock

A new report published in the U.K. has concluded that e-cigarettes are nowhere near as harmful as smoking. Carried out by Public Health England (PHE), the report found that e-cigarettes are “around 95% less harmful” than smoking tobacco, and that the National Health Service should consider recommending them to help people quit smoking all together. They have also concluded that there is “no evidence” that they offer young people a gateway into smoking.

The review suggests that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates in the U.K., as 2.6 million adults are now thought to be using the product. They also found that almost all of these adults are ex-smokers, providing evidence that many people are not starting to use the devices after having never smoked in the first place, and instead are using them to either quit or cut down on tobacco.

“E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm,” explained Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE. “The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting. Local stop smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely.”   

Despite the high quit rates among those who start smoking e-cigarettes, interestingly the number of people who think they are more harmful than traditional smoking is also on the rise. The report details how this number has increased from 8.1% in 2013 to 22.1% in 2015. This goes against all the current scientific evidence that shows the opposite.

The report also goes some way to dismiss the fears that e-cigarettes act as a route into smoking for young people and non-smokers. This reasoning is partly behind the Welsh government's recent move to ban e-cigarettes from all places in which smoking tobacco is also banned, arguing that they normalize the habit, and could encourage young people to take it up.

“Fears that e-cigarettes have made smoking seem normal again or even led to people taking up tobacco smoking are not so far being realised based on the evidence assessed by this important independent review,” said Professor Linda Bauld from Cancer Research UK. “In fact, the overall evidence points to e-cigarettes actually helping people to give up smoking tobacco.”

It’s estimated that currently 80,000 people in England die each year as a result of smoking, but if everybody who does smoke were to switch to e-cigarettes, then this figure is predicted to drop to just 4,000. The evidence, according to the report, is clear: Smoking e-cigarettes is much less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes. And if used in conjunction with stop smoking support services, they offer a much better chance at quitting altogether. 

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