Truth about E-cigarettes
Yesterday on the train platform, the automated voiceover announced that smoking was not permitted anywhere on the premises "including e-cigarettes". 'Really?', I thought to myself. 'Do the electronic ciggies place me in danger of second-hand smoke?' Okay, maybe the train station was more concerned about fire risks but it got me thinking back to newspaper headlines earlier this year, claiming that using e-cigarettes were just as bad as smoking real ones. Time to find out once and for all, if e-cigarettes are the new bad.
As luck would have it this was the week, I got sent the Public Health England's review on E-cigarettes - see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/457102/Ecigarettes_an_evidence_update_A_report_commissioned_by_Public_Health_England_FINAL.pdf. This is a very detailed trawl through all the evidence on e-cigarettes to see whether they are healthy or not. Turns out that they are 95% safer than smoking! Also, it is a myth that e-cigarettes encourage non-smokers to take up cigarette smoking. Despite some experimentation with e-cigarettes amongst never/non smokers, very few people who have never smoked use e-cigarettes regularly nor does it encourage people to move onto to smoking. In fact nearly all users were smokers (hardly any were under 21 years) with no difference in uptake between the different socio-economic groups. Smoking is concentrated in disadvantaged groups and it seems that encouraging e-cigarettes within these groups could help people to quit.
Another interesting fact is that rates of smoking are declining and that the introduction of e-cigarettes is contributing to the decline. Some people were afraid that e-cigarettes would undo all the good work but there isn't any evidence to suggest that this is the case. All the evidence points to e-cigarettes being a positive contributor to people stopping smoking. E-cigarettes can help people to quit smoking and reduce the number of cigarettes they are smoking a day, even if the individual does not want to quit. Public Health England's report goes as far to say that smokers who have tried other methods of quitting without success could be encouraged to try e-cigarettes to stop smoking and that smoking cessation services across the country should support smokers using e-cigarettes to quit by offering behavioural support.
As for second-hand smoke? E-cigarettes pose no risk to others but there is a risk of fire and a small risk of nicotine poisoning (this could be addressed by e-cigarettes coming in 'childproof' packaging). Yet some hospitals and prisons (and my train station) prohibit use of e-cigarettes. The Public Health England report states that e-cigarettes should not be treated in the same way as smoking and that it is not appropriate to prohibit their use in health trusts and prisons as part of smokefree policies without a strong rationale to do so.
So what about the newspaper claims that e-cigarettes are just as harmful than smoking? It seems this was based on flawed research using animals. While vaping is not 100% safe, most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals that are present pose limited danger. E-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking. So if you are thinking of giving up smoking or if you have a loved one who smokes and it worries you, then e-cigarettes are a good option to help quit or cut back on smoking.
Originally posted in 2015.