E-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking.
This is the conclusion of an independent review published by Public Health England, which says the current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking.
The review, led by Professor Ann McNeill of King’s College London and Professor Peter Hajek of Queen Mary University of London, suggests that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people.
It finds that nearly half the population (44.8%) don’t realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking.
And it says there is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.
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).
However, the review raises concerns that increasing numbers of people think e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful than smoking or don’t know.
Despite this trend all current evidence finds that e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoking.
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England said: “Smoking remains England’s number one killer and the best thing a smoker can do is to quit completely, now and forever.
“E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. 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.”
Professor Ann McNeill, King’s College London and independent author of the review, said: “There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are undermining England’s falling smoking rates. Instead the evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking and in my view smokers should try vaping and vapers should stop smoking entirely.”
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.
Dr Iolo Doull, respiratory expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Smoking has a terrible impact on the health of children, with those exposed to second hand smoke more susceptible to chest infections, asthma and ear problems. It also increases the risk of cot death.
“So whilst it is safer to not smoke at all, it is good news that more people are using electronic cigarettes than ever before to try and quit smoking or to try and cut down. Children’s health is surely going to benefit from this.
“However it is vitally important that e-cigarettes do not become a glamorous accessory and act as a catalyst for children wanting to mirror adult behaviours. Because whilst we know that they emit fewer toxins, we still do not know what effect they have on health in the long-term.”