E-cigarettes ‘safer than smoking’

E-cigarettes are around 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco and have the ‘potential to help smokers’ quit, according to a new expert independent evidence review published by Public Health England (PHE).

The subject of e-cigarettes has been extremely controversial, with the Welsh Government announcing plans to ban their use in public places earlier this year (DDN, July/August, page 8). However the new report, which PHE is calling ‘a landmark review’, concludes that there is no evidence ‘so far’ that e-cigarettes act as a gateway into smoking for children or other non-smokers.

The review’s authors found that almost all of the UK’s 2.6m e-cigarette users were current or ex-smokers, with most using the devices as an aid to quit smoking. Their use may be helping to contribute to falling smoking rates, it says, with some of the highest successful quit rates found among those who combined e-cigarettes with support from local smoking cessation services. Less than 1 per cent of adults and young people who had never smoked had gone on to become regular e-cigarette users, it states.

While e-cigarettes carry a ‘fraction of the risk’ of smoking cigarettes, they are not ‘risk-free’, says the document. It calls on health and social care professionals to provide accurate advice on the relevant risks, as around half the population are unaware that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful. The devices could also be a ‘game changer’ in reducing health inequalities, it adds, in that they potentially offer a ‘wide reach, low-cost intervention’ to cut smoking rates in deprived communities, as well as among people with mental health problems.

‘E-cigarettes are not completely risk-free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm,’ said PHE’s director of health and wellbeing, Professor Kevin Fenton. ‘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.’

‘This timely statement from Public Health England should reassure health professionals, the media, and the public – particularly smokers – that the evidence is clear: electronic cigarettes are very much less harmful than smoking,’ added ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott.