In a new report, experts assert that electronic cigarettes are able to significantly lower the chances of death and illness caused by Britain’s biggest killer — tobacco. Professor John Britton at the University of Nottingham and his colleagues point out that nicotine causes little if any harm on its own and that it is the carcinogens, carbon monoxide, and thousands of other toxins in tobacco smoke that kill. Their findings are published in the journal The BMJ.
Reviewing a new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) on the role of e-cigarettes in tobacco harm reduction, the authors write that e-cigs and other non-tobacco nicotine products “offer the potential to radically reduce harm from smoking in our society. This is an opportunity that should be managed, and taken.”
The authors explain that, although cigarette smoking has declined in recent decades, there are still nearly nine million smokers in the UK, a high percentage of whom are among the most disadvantaged in society. Smoking remains the largest avoidable cause of premature death, disability, and social inequalities in health in the UK.
The emergence of e-cigarettes has revolutionized the choice of nicotine products available to smokers, say the authors. Currently, an estimated 2.6 million people use e-cigarettes in the UK, almost all of whom are or have been smokers. And most importantly, one-third of these no longer smoke cigarettes.
The RCP report states that, while not absolutely safe, the harm arising from long term vapor inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco.
The report also lays to rest many of the concerns about the use of e-cigarettes, for example that e-cigs will attract young people to become new smokers or that they will re-establish the act of inhaling nicotine as something that is acceptable in public. On the contrary, the paper states that e-cigarette use is almost entirely limited to those who are or have been smokers, in most cases as a means to cut back or quit smoking entirely.
It also finds no evidence to support the idea that e-cigarette use re-normalizes smoking, or that using e-cigs in places where smoking is prohibited poses a hazard to health. It also finds that the availability of e-cigarettes is unlikely to account for the recent decline in the numbers of smokers using smoking cessation services.
One cause for concern, however, is that the tobacco industry might acquire many formerly independent e-cigarette producers and importers, but the report says that advertising restrictions due to be implemented in May 2016 “go some way towards alleviating these concerns.”
In conclusion, the report finds that e-cigarettes have so far been beneficial to UK public health, both at individual and population level, by providing smokers with a good alternative to tobacco smoking, write the authors.
“E-cigarettes represent an important means to reduce the harm to individuals and society from tobacco use,” they conclude. “They should continue to be supported by government and promoted as a tobacco harm reduction strategy.”