E-cigarettes are much safer than smoking, do not result in the normalisation of smoking and do not act as a gateway to smoking, says a report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP). The controversial devices are therefore a useful harm reduction tool and ‘likely to be beneficial to UK public health’, it states.
E-cigarette use is limited ‘almost entirely’ to people who already smoke, says the RCP, with the report finding ‘no evidence’ that the products have attracted significant use among non-smokers. Using them is also ‘likely to lead to quit attempts that would not otherwise have happened’, a proportion of which will be successful, it adds.
However the report says that concerns about the effects of long-term use ‘cannot be dismissed’, although the risks are likely to be less than 5 per cent of those associated with smoking tobacco. Regulation needs to be balanced and should ‘not be allowed significantly to inhibit the development and use of harm reduction products by smokers’, it warns. Plans by the Welsh Assembly Government to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places were narrowly defeated earlier this year (DDN, April, page 5).
While the RCP acknowledges that the tobacco industry ‘can be expected to try to exploit these products to market tobacco cigarettes and undermine wider tobacco control work’, their use should still be widely promoted as a smoking substitute, it states.
‘The growing use of electronic cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco smoking has been a topic of great controversy, with much speculation over their potential risks and benefits,’ said chair of the RCP’s tobacco advisory group, professor John Britton. ‘This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the UK.’
Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction at www.rcplondon.ac.uk