King's College London Vaping e-cigarettes is much less harmful than smoking and should be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes
Joymy reports, Sept. 30 -- A new study commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care's Office of Health Improvement and Disparities found that smokers who switch to e-cigarettes will be significantly less exposed to toxins that cause cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease, according to a foreign news release.
This is the most comprehensive review of the health risks of e-cigarettes to date. Researchers drew on more than 400 published studies from around the world, many of which examined harmful signs or levels of toxic substances in the body after smoking and vaping e-cigarettes.
Smokers who switch to e-cigarettes are significantly less exposed to the toxic substances that cause cancer, lung and cardiovascular disease, but they strongly urge non-smokers not to adopt either habit, the researchers at King's College London said.
Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction and lead author of the study, said smoking is so deadly that it kills half of regular long-term smokers, but a survey in England found that two-thirds of adult smokers who smoke are unaware that smoking e-cigarettes is less harmful.
In the short to medium term, e-cigarettes constitute only a small part of the risk of smoking, but that doesn't mean they are risk-free, especially for people who have never smoked, she said.
Dr Debbie Robson, co-author of the report, said helping people move from smoking to e-cigarettes must be a government priority to achieve the goal of a smoke-free England by 2030.
The study shows that smoking e-cigarettes is significantly less harmful than smoking and that smokers should be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes, but action is needed to tackle the dramatic rise in e-cigarette use among children.
However, it says never-smokers should not smoke e-cigarettes because it is not without risk, and the researchers are particularly concerned about the dangers of e-cigarette smoking in children.
The findings on e-cigarettes and smoking are for short- and medium-term use only. According to the study, little is known about the long-term dangers of e-cigarettes to make definitive conclusions.
Dr. Lion Shahab, professor of health psychology and co-director of the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group at University College London, said: "This study confirms findings from previous reviews in the field that nicotine e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking.
"At the same time, the report acknowledges that there are some risks associated with e-cigarettes compared to not using any product at all, but these concerns are often exaggerated, leading to false risk perceptions that may deter those who use the riskiest product, cigarettes, from switching to the lower-risk product, e-cigarettes.
'Given the recent increase in e-cigarette smoking among young people, this means that the right balance needs to be struck in maximizing the benefits of e-cigarettes while reducing unintended negative consequences.'
The experts called for a crackdown on the sale of e-cigarettes to children, as the review concluded that little is known about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes.
They called for more research on the risks of e-cigarettes for people who have never smoked or vaped before.
E-cigarette smoking among children is on the rise, as many are influenced by social media sites such as TikTok. Newer disposable e-cigarettes are growing in popularity, in part because they cost about £5 each and come in a variety of fruit flavors.
When it comes to selling e-cigarettes to children under 18, the study says local authorities' trading standards efforts have been scaled back and compliance with regulations is not enough to prevent minors from selling and accessing illegal products.
It added that more frequent monitoring of disposable e-cigarette products popular with children is now needed.
A survey of children conducted by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found that a new generation of disposable e-cigarettes known as puff bars (containing nicotine) has become available in the past year. While it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18, social media posts by teens showcased the new e-cigarettes and discussed flavors such as pink lemonade, strawberry banana and mango.
The poll found that the percentage of 11- to 17-year-olds who currently smoke e-cigarettes has jumped from 4 percent in 2020 to 7 percent in 2022. in 2013, only 3 percent of 11- to 15-year-olds had ever smoked an e-cigarette, but that percentage rose to 8 percent in 2020 and 10 percent in 2022.
There are currently about 6 million smokers and about 3.8 million e-cigarette users in England.
Previous claims by the U.K. Department of Public Health that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent less harmful than smoking in the short to medium term are generally correct, but longer-term studies are needed, the researchers said.
Lead author Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at King's College, said: 'Smoking is uniquely lethal, killing a quarter of regular and consistent smokers, but about two-thirds of adult smokers who really benefit from switching to e-cigarettes are unaware that e-cigarettes are less harmful.
"However, the evidence we reviewed suggests that e-cigarettes are unlikely to be risk-free. Therefore, we strongly oppose e-cigarette smoking or vaping by anyone who has never smoked.'
The report specifically looked at the risks of smoking e-cigarettes versus not smoking them at all and found that exposure to carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer) was similar to, or in some cases higher than, e-cigarettes.
The same is true for exposure to the chemical NNK (NNAL), which has been found to be a potent lung carcinogen in animals and humans, according to the study. When it comes to toxic substances that affect the respiratory system, the risk is similar for e-cigarette users and non-e-cigarette users.
Dr. Debbie Robson, senior lecturer in tobacco harm reduction at King's College and one of the authors of the report, said the evidence is clear that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking.
Helping people switch from smoking to e-cigarettes should be seen as a priority if the government is to achieve a smoke-free England by 2030, she said.
Dr. Jeanelle DeGruchy, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: Every minute in England, someone is admitted to hospital because of smoking. Every eight minutes, one person dies from a smoking-related death. E-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking, so the message is clear: If it's a choice between smoking and e-cigarettes, choose e-cigarettes. If it's a choice between e-cigarettes and fresh air, choose fresh air.