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New U.K. Study Says E-cigs are Far Safer than Traditional Cigarettes and Help Smokers Quit Tobacco

E-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than smoking tobacco, according to an independent study released this month by Public Health England (PHE). 

In the report, PHE also said health agencies should promote e-cigs as a way to quit smoking tobacco. Currently, 2.6 million adults in the U.K. are said to use e-cigs. The vast majority of these people are former traditional cigarette smokers, the study found, and have turned to e-cigs to help them successfully stop.

“E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm,”saidProfessor 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.”  

It’s currently estimated that 80,000 people in England die each year from smoking-related illnesses. If everybody who does smoke were to switch to e-cigarettes, it is estimated the number of smoking–related deaths there would plummet to just 4,000 people annually.

In the U.S. and other countries, opponents of e-cigs argue they are enticing to young people and encourage them to take up the smoking habit. Health officials and community leaders in many cases have sought to ban them from public spaces and are working to regulate them closely.

The PHE study found there is “no evidence” that e-cigs serve as a gateway to smoking tobacco.

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

The study also addressed the fact that despite scientific evidence to the contrary, nearly half of the U.K. population – 45 percent – don’t realize e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking.

Peter Hajek, a professor at Queen Mary University London and co-author of the study, said the report’s evidence supports the idea that when a person switches from smoking to e-cigs, they reduce their risks of getting a smoking-related disease dramatically.

“My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health,” he said. “Smokers differ in their needs and I would advise them not to give up on e-cigarettes if they do not like the first one they try. It may take some experimentation with different products and e-liquids to find the right one.”

Key messages from the PHE study include the following:

1. Smokers who have tried other methods of quitting without success should be encouraged to try e-cigarettes to stop smoking, and stop smoking services should support smokers using e-cigs to quit by offering them behavioral support. 

2. Encouraging smokers who cannot or do not want to stop smoking to switch to e-cigs could help reduce smoking-related disease, death and health inequalities. 

3. There is no evidence that e-cigs are undermining the long-term decline in cigarette smoking among adults and youth, and may in fact be contributing to it. Despite some experimentation with e-cigs by non-smokers, e-cigs are attracting very few people who have never smoked traditional cigarettes. 

4. Recent studies support findings that e-cigs can help people to quit smoking and reduce their cigarette consumption. There is also evidence that e-cigs can encourage quitting or cigarette consumption reduction even among those not intending to quit or rejecting other support. More research is needed in this area, the report states. 

5. When used as intended, e-cigs pose no risk of nicotine poisoning to users, but e-liquids should be in child-proof packaging. The accuracy of nicotine content labeling currently raises no major concerns. 

This new study by the PHE goes against a 2014 report by the World Health Organization. In their report, the World Health Organization said sales of e-cigs should be closely regulated. They also pushed for bans that prohibit indoor use of e-cigs in public areas and sale to minors. As a result, many countries and communities across the globe are banning public use and putting strict e-cig regulations on the books. 

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration currently is looking into setting tight regulations on e-cigs by lumping them in with traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.