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Public Health England has released its latest report on e-cigarettes, updating on research into their safety and making new recommendations.

The key findings won’t come as a surprise to those who follow the research closely: research shows e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, and they can help smokers quit.

But a worrying trend continues to emerge. The report says that public perception of the safety of e-cigarettes has got worse in recent years, despite building evidence that vaping is less harmful than smoking.

Here’s 4 things you need to know following yesterday’s report.

1. The evidence so far shows that vaping is much less harmful than smoking

We’ve blogged about some of the research before. But the report highlights a recent study that tried to calculate the difference in cancer risk for smoking and vaping for the first time. Scientists analysed the chemicals released from tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and estimated that the lifetime cancer risk for e-cigarette use could be 100 times lower than that of smoking.

But determining risk is a tricky thing to do – it’s hard to get accurate figures without long term studies involving people – and so this should be considered an estimate at best.

2. Public perception of e-cigarettes is worsening

Despite the research telling us that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking, the number of people using them in Great Britain appears to have stalled at just under 3 million. The fact more smokers haven’t switched could in part be down to public perception of their safety.

According to the report, more and more people are incorrectly identifying e-cigarettes as being as harmful as tobacco cigarettes. And in some cases, they’re wrongly badged as more harmful. From 2013 to 2017, nearly four times as many adults thought that e-cigarettes were as harmful, or more harmful, than smoking (7% in 2013 to 26% in 2017).

Yesterday’s report calls for the misperceptions around e-cigarettes to be addressed.

Professor John Newton, Director for Health Improvement at Public Health England, said: “It would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about their safety.”

3. E-cigarettes are helping people to stop smoking

The first half of 2017 saw the highest success rates for quitting smoking in England. While we can’t say this is down to e-cigarettes alone, they’re likely to have played a role.

According to the report, e-cigarettes may contribute to thousands of smokers quitting each year. It’s estimated that there were 18,000 more long-term ex-smokers in England in 2015 alone thanks to e-cigarettes.

And stats show that when Stop Smoking Services provide behavioural support for people choosing to use an e-cigarette, the quit rates are comparable to using licensed medications.

The benefits of e-cigarettes as a stop smoking aid were backed up by figures showing, for the first time ever, most vapers have stopped smoking entirely. This is a big change from a few years ago, where most vapers also smoked cigarettes.

Public Health England highlighted the need for more trials to test how effective e-cigarettes are in helping people quit. It will be especially important to find out more about their effectiveness in groups that typically find it harder to quit, such as those with mental health conditions.

4. Very few young people are picking up e-cigarettes without having tried cigarettes

The report also looked at if young people are vaping, and whether it leads to smoking tobacco. This concern has been raised following studies that found people who have tried e-cigarettes are more likely to try smoking tobacco.

But as Professor Linda Bauld, our cancer prevention expert from the University of Stirling and author on the report, explains:

“In the UK, research clearly shows that regular use of e-cigarettes among young people who have never smoked remains negligible, less than 1%.

“We need to keep closely monitoring these trends, but so far the data suggest that e-cigarettes are not acting as a route into regular smoking amongst young people.”

It’s also illegal to buy e-cigarettes in the UK if you’re under 18, and this should restrict the number of young people that are able to pick up an e-cigarette.

Overall, this new report highlights the opportunities that e-cigarettes could present in the battle against tobacco, among the range of already established methods. There are still some outstanding questions that only long-term data can answer. But right now, smokers should take note that if they’ve tried everything else to move away from tobacco, evidence points towards e-cigarettes being a less harmful alternative.

Carl Alexander is a health information officer at Cancer Research UK

Comments

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Sara February 13, 2018

I am the one who the ecig really helped to. It made me to stop smoking cigarettes and i have even lowered nicotine intensity in my Vapour2 to minimum. So i am glad and can not complain. I am sure there is some harm caused by ecig but in my opinion it is minimum and i can see it on my health. Would really recommend to try it

Jonathan February 12, 2018

E-cigarrete has a bad image in the eyes of non-smokers. This can only be fixed if proper knowledge is installed in the minds of tobacco users. They should see that e-cigarette is not as harmful as the regular cigarette and it helps a lot of smokers who want to quit to easily stop their bad habits.

Penny Laframboise February 9, 2018

5 years smoke free for husband and I. Thank you e-cigarettes. My husband has COPD I know that trading cigarettes for vape saved his life. We are both smoke and nicotine free. Have not used an e-cig in 3 years. I keep thinking there is no way it was that easy.

Penny Laframboise February 9, 2018

5 years smoke free for husband and I. Thank you e-cigarettes. My husband has COPD I know that trading cigarettes for vape saved his life.

Rokyo February 9, 2018

My mother is one of them who thinks or is convinced that e-cigarettes are as harmful as tobacco cigarettes. She is 2,5 pack/day smoker, she can’t stop smoking but she wouldn’t try e-cigarettes because she is convinced “they would find something bad about them (e-cigarettes) over time”.

robert harvey February 8, 2018

its most concerning that “thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about their safety.”, as I said in my last comment i have seen this myself when a smoker declaired to me that e-cigarettes are worse then smoking. GOV UK & PHE needs to do more to get the word out that e-cigs are far safer, they were quick enough to do anti-smoking adverts on TV, perhaps a similar campaign regarding e-cigs would be useful.

Carl Alexander February 8, 2018

Hi M Walker,
Thanks for your comment.
Quit success is measured as giving up cigarettes, rather than nicotine – because it’s the tobacco that causes the major harms of smoking. Behavioural support and medication, which is offered by local Stop Smoking Services, gives smokers the best chance of quitting successfully. Some people attending Stop Smoking Services choose to give up smoking with support only and no medication. And they can have similar success to those using medication.
Best wishes,
Carl, Cancer Research UK

robert harvey February 8, 2018

I know for the fact this is true, at my workplace where we e-cig users have to share the smoking area cigarette smokers one chap was coughing his heart up and I mentioned to him that he ought to try e-cigs and his very response was “no way, they are worse then smoking cigarettes”.

M Walker February 8, 2018

Does the research indicate that e cigarettes help people to give up smoking cigarettes or helps them give up the addiction to nicotine. Surely educated cold turkey is the best way to give up the latter?

Gary Urquhart February 8, 2018

A “classroom” of children are becoming hooked on smoking every day, according to a charity chief.

Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, said existing educational approaches are not enough, with 36 children taking up the habit daily.

Research shows many young people in the most deprived parts of Scotland take up smoking.

This, she says, can lead to health and wealth inequality following children for the rest of their lives.

https://stv.tv/news/scotland/1407901-classroom-of-children-taking-up-smoking-every-day/

Gary Gilmore February 8, 2018

I would like to say 2 things:-

1E cigs have a bad reputation because the kind of shops that sell them use advertising similar to alcopops and seem to totally aim at a hipster / gadget / market with their flavoured and attractive names. E cigs should be regulated as medicines if they are to help smokers cease.

2. Research, by it’s very nature is historical. On our high streets and around our schools in the UK there are kids mixing liquids and trying e cigs when they have never smoked. Peer pressure and “coolness” needs to be urgently removed from this product. We have plain packaging for tobacco products while e cigs are advertised with all the colour and attractiveness they can muster. Cancer research, and other bodies should be careful how E cig businesses use their words to advertise!!