Smokers should be offered and encouraged to use e-cigarettes to help them quit, says a leading medical body. The UK’s Royal College of Physicians says there is resounding evidence that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking and aid quitting. With the right checks and measures, vaping could improve the lives of millions of people, it says in a new, 200-page report. It says fears that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking are unfounded.
UK doctors can only prescribe e-cigarettes if they have been licensed as a ‘quit smoking aid’ — something that requires strict regulation. Few manufacturers go down this route and instead sell products to satisfy users’ desire for nicotine without the harmful chemicals produced by tobacco.
Best way to quit?
Sales of e-cigarettes have been rising steadily since the first went on sale in 2007 in the UK. Since 2012, they have replaced nicotine patches and gum to become the most popular choice of smoking cessation aid in England.
Around one in 20 adults in England uses e-cigarettes and nearly all of these are ex-smokers or current smokers who are trying to cut down or quit.
E-cigarettes have remained controversial and this year ministers in Wales attempted to ban them from public places. The Royal College of Physicians says smokers who use e-cigarettes or prescribed medications — with support from their doctor — are more likely to quit permanently.
How e-cigarettes work?
1. On some e-cigarettes, inhalation activates the battery-powered atomiser. Other types are manually switched on.
2. A heating coil inside the atomiser heats liquid nicotine contained in a cartridge.
3. The mixture becomes vapour and is inhaled. Many e-cigarettes have an LED light as a cosmetic feature to simulate traditional cigarette glow.
Different brands of e-cigarettes contain different chemical concentrations. Public Health England has also says that health hazards of e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than regular cigarettes.
But that does not mean they are entirely risk-free. Prof Simon Capewell, of the Faculty of Public Health, said that there were still many unknown factors. “We don’t know enough yet about the long-term effects of vaping on people’s health, which is why we need more research. But Prof John Britton, who co-authored the RCP report, says e-cigarettes are extremely positive for public health and should be “encouraged and endorsed”. He said: “The public need to be reassured this is not a new nicotine epidemic in the making. E-cigarettes have very little downside and a lot of potential benefit.”
Around a third of UK smokers try to quit each year, but only one in every six of those succeeds. New EU laws are due to come into force in May that will set safety and quality standards for all e-cigarettes and refills. Manufacturers will be required to disclose the purity of their products to consumers.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit smoking.” E-cigarettes can be addictive as it is the nicotine in them that can cause dependency.
There is also a fear that the widespread use of e-cigarettes will normalise the consumption of nicotine, undoing the social changes which resulted from the smoking ban and making smoking socially acceptable once more.
The British Medical Association is calling for a ban in public places, while the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) considers that all governments should apply the precautionary principle and should implement an appropriate regulatory regime for e-cigarettes as products that have the potential to cause considerable harm to the public’s health.