Growing consensus on the harm-reduction potential of e-cigarettes

Media Release
Royal Society for Public Health

RSPH welcomes the new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction, which recognises that e-cigarettes offer a vastly safer alternative to tobacco and for some, may be a useful smoking cessation tool.

Since e-cigarettes entered the market in the mid-2000s, the popularity of these products has grown exponentially, with an estimated 2.6 million users in the UK. However e-cigarette-use, or ‘vaping’, has not been without controversy, with some raising concerns about the safety and long-term impact of these products.

Evidence to date indicates that e-cigarette-use presents just a fraction of the risk associated with tobacco smoking, due to the absence of the vast majority of the 4000 toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco products. An evidence review released last year by Public Health England estimates that e-cigarettes are roughly 95% less harmful than smoked tobacco.

As the RCP report recognizes, it is vital that we continue to monitor the evidence-base, particularly with regard to long-term impact, but as it stands, the concerns relating to ‘gateway’ and normalization of smoking behavior, are not supported by evidence.

For many, e-cigarettes have become the smoking cessation tool of choice, with a growing number using them as a way of stopping smoking or cutting down, but as the report discusses, we must ensure that the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes is not stifled by disproportionate regulation.

Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive, RSPH stated: “Reducing smoking prevalence has been the defining challenge of the last century – concerted efforts from both health professionals and Government alike has achieved substantial success, but there is more work to be done.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the UK, with a staggering 100,000 people still dying each year. Whilst we must continue to be vigilant in monitoring the evidence base, we must capitalise on the opportunity presented to us by e-cigarettes and promote them as safer source of nicotine and potential tool for stopping smoking.

The success of the 20th century was the substantial reduction in smoking rates; with the support of e-cigarettes, the success of the 21st century, could be its eradication.”

Royal Society for Public Health, 28 Apr, 2016