E-cigarettes are likely to bring benefits for public health and should be widely promoted to smokers to help them quit tobacco, Britain’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said on Thursday.
In a report likely to further fuel a debate over electronic cigarettes, the influential British doctors group stressed that tobacco smoking is both addictive and lethal, and concluded that e-cigarettes are “much safer than smoking”.
E-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking, the RCP said, and do not lead to the normalisation of the habit – two issues often cited by critics who fear the devices can lure children and young people into smoking habits.
“None of these products has to date attracted significant use among adult never-smokers, or demonstrated evidence of significant gateway progression into smoking among young people,” the RCP’s 200-page report said.
E-cigarettes, which heat nicotine-laced liquid into vapour, have rapidly grown into a global market for “vaping” products that was estimated at around $7 billion in 2015.
Tobacco smoking kills half of all smokers, plus at least another 600,000 people a year non-smokers via second-hand smoke.
This makes it the world’s biggest preventable killer, with a predicted death toll of a billion by the end of the century, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Many public health experts think e-cigarettes, or vapes, which do not contain tobacco, are a lower-risk alternative to smoking, but some questions remain about their long-term safety.
Linda Bauld, a professor at Stirling University, deputy director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and a co-author of the RCP report, said that unlike tobacco, nicotine does not cause cancer, heart and lung diseases.
“The ideal is for people to use nothing,” she said, but when the alternative is smoking, people should be encouraged to use nicotine “delivered in a cleaner form than in deadly cigarettes”.
“This is what tobacco harm reduction is – it reduces the harm from tobacco while recognising that some people will still use nicotine in other safer forms.
John Britton, chair of the RCP Tobacco Advisory Group which published the report, acknowledged that e-cigarette were “a topic of great controversy” but said his group’s analysis “lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products”.
The anti-smoking group ASH UK welcomed the report, saying it showed “that switching to vaping is a positive and sensible life choice” for smokers.
“Electronic cigarette vapour does not contain smoke, which is why vaping is much less harmful,” said Deborah Arnott, ASH’s chief executive.