E-cigarettes safer than tobacco smoking - report

Smokers should be encouraged to use them
  • Deborah Condon

Smokers should be encouraged to use e-cigarettes because they are much safer than tobacco smoking, British doctors have insisted.

According to a new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in the UK, e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking and ‘are likely to be beneficial to public health'.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices designed to supply nicotine through inhaled water vapour (vaping). Since their introduction, these products have been surrounded by controversy, with supporters stating that they can help people quit smoking, and others insisting that they normalise smoking and are potentially harmful to health.

The RCP decided to investigate this further and its new 200-page report, Nicotine without smoke: Tobacco harm Reduction, assesses the science, regulations, public policy and ethics of these products based on the latest evidence available.

The report states that e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking, as their use is limited almost entirely to those who currently or previously smoked tobacco.

The report also states that there is no evidence that e-cigarettes, or any nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, normalise smoking. To date, none of these products have recorded significant use among adults who have never smoked. Furthermore, there does not appear to be any evidence to suggest that these products act as a gateway to smoking among young people.

The report finds that among smokers, the use of e-cigarettes is likely to lead to quit attempts that may not have happened otherwise. Among some of these people, this quit attempt will be successful.

When it comes to the issue of long-term harm, the doctors acknowledge that the possibility of some harm from long-term use ‘cannot be dismissed'. However, they found that this possibility ‘is likely to be very small, and substantially smaller than that arising from tobacco smoking'.

"Although it is not possible to estimate the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes precisely, the available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure," the RCP said.

The report acknowledges that regulation in this area is needed, but it states that this regulation ‘should not be allowed significantly to inhibit the development and use of harm-reduction products by smokers'.

"The growing use of e-cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco smoking has been a topic of great controversy, with much speculation over their potential risks and benefits.

"This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, e-cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes. Smokers should be reassured that these products can help them quit all tobacco use forever," commented Prof John Britton, chairperson of the RCP's Tobacco Advisory Group.

Responding to the report, Vape Business Ireland (VBI) - a business alliance aimed at ensuring open debate about vaping products in Ireland - said that the report highlights the important role e-cigarettes have for some people.

"Given we have no similar reports here in Ireland, we hope the RCP report will assist our own Department of Health in ensuring balanced and proportionate regulation of vaping products when transposing the Tobacco Products Directive in just three weeks time, on May 20," commented VBI director, Michael Kenneally.

The RCP report can be downloaded here


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