Landmark review on e-cigarettes could have 'game changer' effect on public health

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An expert independent evidence review published today by Public Health England (PHE) concludes that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking.

Key findings of the review include:

  • the current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking
  • nearly half the population (44.8%) don't realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking
  • there is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.

The review, commissioned by PHE and led by Professor Ann McNeill (King's College London) and Professor Peter Hajek (Queen Mary University of London), suggests that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people. Following the review PHE has published a paper on the implications of the evidence for policy and practice.

The comprehensive review of the evidence finds that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in Great Britain are current or ex-smokers, most of whom are using the devices to help them quit smoking or to prevent them going back to cigarettes.

Emerging evidence suggests some of the highest successful quit rates are now seen among smokers who use an e-cigarette and also receive additional support from their local stop smoking services.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England said: "Smoking remains England's number one killer and the best thing a smoker can do is to quit completely, now and forever.

E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting. Local stop smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely."

Commenting on the findings, independent author of the review, Professor Ann McNeill, King's College London, said: "E-cigarettes could be a game changer in public health in particular by reducing the enormous health inequalities caused by smoking."

Lisa Surtees, acting director at Fresh Smoke Free North East, the first region where all local stop smoking services are actively promoted as e-cigarette friendly, said: "Despite making great strides to reduce smoking, tobacco is still our biggest killer. Our region has always kept an open mind towards using electronic cigarettes as we can see the massive potential health benefits from switching.

All of our local NHS Stop Smoking Services now proactively welcome anyone who wants to use these devices as part of their quit attempt and increase their chance of success."