Although not harmless, the evidence is unequivocal that vaping is much safer than smoking. But misinformation and scaremongering could still be putting people off switching.
Search for the term ‘vaping’ online and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is an activity fraught with risks. The top stories relate to health problems, explosions and that vaping leads to smoking in teenagers. For the average smoker seeking information on vaping, a quick internet search offers little reassurance. Might as well continue smoking, the headlines imply, if these products are so dangerous.
But the reality is that they are not. In the past year, more than any other, the evidence that using an e-cigarette is far safer than smoking has continued to accumulate. 2017 saw the publication of the first longer term study of vaping, comparing toxicant exposure between people who’d stopped smoking and used the products for an average of 16 months, compared with those who continued to smoke. Funded by Cancer Research UK, the study found large reductions in carcinogens and other toxic compounds in vapers compared with smokers, but only if the user had stopped smoking completely. A further recent study compared toxicants in vapour and smoke that can cause cancer, and estimated excess cancer risk over a lifetime from smoking cigarettes or vaping. Most of the available data on e-cigarettes in this study suggested a cancer risk from vaping around 1% of that from smoking.
E-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking because they don’t contain tobacco. Inhaling burnt tobacco – but also chewing it – is hugely damaging to human health. Remove the tobacco and the combustion and it is hardly surprising that risk is reduced. That doesn’t mean e-cigarettes are harmless. But it does mean that we can be relatively confident that switching from smoking to vaping will have health benefits.
These new studies and others have influenced policy, at least in the UK. In England, a broad consensus endorsed by many health organisations has existed since 2016 encouraging smokers to try vaping. This year additional organisations, like the Royal College of General Practitionersand the British Medical Association issued new reports also pointing to e-cigarettes as a positive choice for smokers trying to quit. And for the first time, Public Health England included e-cigarettes in its advertising for ‘Stoptober’ an annual stop smoking campaign. In Scotland, a large number of organisations led by Health Scotland issued a statement making clear that vaping is definitely safer than smoking that was also supported by Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer.
Read more at theguardian.com