Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Let's beat cancer sooner

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


JK March 15, 2018

I tried EVERYTHING, and vaping is the only thing that worked for me. I make my own vape so I can control exactly how it tastes, and I am reducing my nicotine concentration by 1mg per month, which is hardly noticeable. I do not intend to vape for life, and reckon I will be off the vape in 2 years, without having to go through any traumatic withdrawal. After smoking heavily for 25 years, I seriously doubt a few years vaping will be doing any more significant damage to my lungs. It has been one year since my last cigarette and my lungs haven’t felt this good since I was a teenager. The thing which grates me is NOT being allowed to vape in some public buildings, and being shoved outside with the smokers – NOT helpful, especially if you are struggling with giving up. Vaping indoors is NOT against the law, and this should be campaigned for to assist those who vape to do so sucessfully.

Irene banks March 15, 2018

Well I’ve started smoking again due to the pressure of loosing family I loved deeply.
And have thought about trying this method to quit you may have swayed me to try

Susan March 14, 2018

My husband has been using e-cigarettes for 5 years now to stop him smoking tobacco. I have noticed how little he coughs now and that he has not had a chest infection since using e-cigarettes. I do worry that we discover that there are different health issues with e-cigarettes and would like them to be regulated properly.

Elise March 14, 2018

Why do you have to have any of the tools to help smokers give up where is their will power as a smoker 35 years ago my husband and I just gave yes it was hard but was the best thing we did.

Paul Wilson March 14, 2018

It does seem to me that we’re sumply swapping one harmful addiction for another one, the harmfulness of which we don’t really know as yet.
It may seem now that e-cigs are an improvement on normal ones but time and history have a nasty habit of proving things not to be as they first appear.
Surely we’d be better to aim as much positive help as we can at people that wish to quit rather than encouraging them to trade addictions?

Karl Holden March 14, 2018

I don’t think Cancer UK should be promoting e cigs as a way of quitting smoking. You don’t know for sure of the long term effects of vaping and the chemicals used. A bit like when tobacco came to prominence and the government was handing it out to soldiers in the trenches, (tobacco was considered harmless), look where we are now. You do not know the long term effects because it’s a relatively new habit. I have also seen teenagers hanging around outside school vaping, they’re not giving up smoking, they’re too young, they’re acquiring an addictive habit.
When I gave up smoking I chewed Nicotine gum for a while, gave it up when headaches started and just went cold turkey. It’s the only way to quit. You don’t quit by acquiring another habit which may be just as harmful.
I think Cancer Research should in no way advocate vaping.

Jean March 14, 2018

It would perhaps be useful for the general public to be updated in respect of the vapour which is expelled from e-cigs, especially with regard to the millions who suffer from respiratory difficulties who are bothered by the clouds of vapour

Shar March 14, 2018

It’s quite useful information i like to stop smoking but don’t no which place is reliable to buy the e-cigarettes can someone email reliable place.thanks

Patrick Golding March 14, 2018

Very informative.?

Peter Davey March 11, 2018

Up to date trial tests

J S Welsh March 1, 2018


Marg February 28, 2018

E-cigarettes receive a bad press in the eyes of the non-smoking public for 2 reasons (I believe) 1 being scepticism on their long term safety because of the chemicals and 2 the way the smokers insist on surrounding everyone in copious amounts of vapour.

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.

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!!