An expert independent review published this week 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, while e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking.
Other key findings of the review were that nearly half the population (44.8%) don’t realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking; and that 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.
“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),” PHE said.
However, the review raises concerns 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 some of the highest successful quit rates are now seen among smokers who use an e-cigarette and also receive additional support from their local stop smoking services, PHE added.
The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK added that tobacco contains nicotine along with many other chemicals, but that nicotine by itself is fairly harmless. It advocated renaming e-cigarettes as nicotine sticks or vapourisers to distance them from cigarettes.