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E-cigarettes 95% less harmful than tobacco

Landmark review calls for NHS to prescribe e-cigarettes

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A landmark review with leading experts involved has concluded that electronic (e) cigarettes are significantly less harmful to a person’s health than tobacco and should be prescribed by the NHS to people trying to stop smoking.

An expert independent evidence review published today by Public Health England (PHE) estimates that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking.

However, almost half of the population (44.8%) do not realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful, said the review’s authors.

The review was commissioned by PHE and led by Professor Ann McNeill of King’s College London and Professor Peter Hajek of Queen Mary University of London.

It suggests that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people. In addition to the review, PHE has also published a paper on the implications of the evidence for policy and practice.

The report’s authors carried out a comprehensive review of existing evidence that showed 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.

They also said very few adults and young people who have never smoked were becoming regular e-cigarette users (less than 1% in each group).

The public has misconceptions over e-cigarettes, said the authors, who found that the numbers of people who thought e-cigarettes were equally or more harmful than smoking rose from 8.1% in 2013 to 22.1% in 2015.

Nevertheless, all the current evidence indicated that e-cigarettes carried a fraction of the risk of smoking.

There was also emerging evidence suggesting some of the highest successful quit rates were now seen among smokers who used an e-cigarette and also received support from local stop smoking services.

Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, 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: “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. E-cigarettes could be a game changer in public health.”

Dr Ram Moorthy, BMA board of science deputy chair, said: “We need to see a stronger regulatory framework that realises any public health benefit they may have, but addresses significant concerns from medical professionals around the inconsistent quality of e-cigarettes, the way they are marketed, and whether they are completely safe and efficient as a way to reduce tobacco harm.”

ASH’s (Action on Smoking and Health) chief executive Deborah Arnott, said: “Quitting completely will always be the best option, and regulation is essential as the market evolves to ensure smokers have access to the safest most effective products, and that uptake by never-smokers remains low.

“However, if every smoker switched overnight to electronic cigarettes many hundreds of thousands of premature deaths would be prevented in the years to come.”

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