Public Health England has released a new study on electronic cigarettes and it is perhaps the most truthful and logical analysis so far of the health implications of electronic cigarette use. The study not only delves into the benefits and lack of risks of electronic cigarette use, but it directly refutes the misleading and often patently false information being bantered about in the headlines.
The full 113 page document, E-cigarettes: an evidence update is available for download at the UK government site, but the following summary is taken directly from the “key messages” in it.
1. Smokers who have tried other methods of quitting without success could be encouraged to try e-cigarettes (EC) to stop smoking and stop smoking services should support smokers using EC to quit by offering them behavioural support.
It is simply unfathomable to me that any health professional would try to demonize electronic cigarettes when what they should be doing is handing them out to any smoker that wants to try one. E-cigs are the best smoking cessation aid to come along and should be treated as such.
2. Encouraging smokers who cannot or do not want to stop smoking to switch to EC could help reduce smoking related disease, death and health inequalities.
No brainer here. There is no question that electronic cigarettes eliminate most of the harmful ingredients and chemicals found in cigarettes.
3. There is no evidence that EC are undermining the long-term decline in cigarette smoking among adults and youth, and may in fact be contributing to it. Despite some experimentation with EC among never smokers, EC are attracting very few people who have never smoked into regular EC use.
In direct rebuttal to the scare-mongering headlines, this Public Health England acknowledges the fact that there is no evidence to support the idea that people start smoking after trying an electronic cigarette. Any vapor will tell you that smoking a cigarette is disgusting after switching to e-cigs, and it’s hard to believe that a non-smoker would try vaping and then willingly switch to a more expensive, foul tasting and smelly cigarette instead.
4. Recent studies support the Cochrane Review findings that EC can help people to quit smoking and reduce their cigarette consumption. There is also evidence that EC can encourage quitting or cigarette consumption reduction even among those not intending to quit or rejecting other support. More research is needed in this area.
I can speak to this one personally. I had no intention of quitting a 20 year pack-a-day habit when I picked up my first electronic cigarette. I bought it solely for those times that it was inconvenient to smoke. Within a week I had “accidentally” quit smoking.
5. When used as intended, EC pose no risk of nicotine poisoning to users, but eliquids should be in ‘childproof’ packaging. The accuracy of nicotine content labelling currently raises no major concerns.
Again, a no brainer. The misinformation in the press is simply wrong on the dangers of nicotine poisoning. Treated with a degree of caution around children and animals, it simply is not that dangerous.
6. There has been an overall shift towards the inaccurate perception of EC being as harmful as cigarettes over the last year in contrast to the current expert estimate that using EC is around 95% safer than smoking.
Okay, the “more dangerous than cigarettes” headlines do not even deserve a response. Hopefully most people can see them as the flat-out lies that they are. The “95% safer” part is one of the best take-aways from this study, though. We have known for years that electronic cigarettes are magnitudes safer than conventional cigarettes and that they contain nearly none of the thousands of harmful chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes. It’s great to be able to see an actual numerical comparison from such a reputable organization.
7. Whilst protecting non-smoking children and ensuring the products on the market are as safe and effective as possible are clearly important goals, new regulations currently planned should also maximise the public health opportunities of EC.
You could also read this as “don’t let fretting about whether kids will try them get in the way of saving adults.” I am passionate about telling any kid that will listen to never try any nicotine in any form, but taking a lifesaving technology off the market because kids like strawberry flavors is ridiculous.
8. Continued vigilance and research in this area are needed.
We don’t know all there is to know because the technology hasn’t been around long enough. My personal outlook is that there has been a lot of big money thrown at finding something wrong with electronic cigarettes and we haven’t heard about most of the studies that found nothing. That’s good enough for me, but we do need to continue to look for harmful side effects.
A breath of fresh air
This study is a breath of fresh air both for its seemingly accurate assessment of the potential benefits of electronic cigarette use as well as its willingness to directly invalidate the misinformation that grabs so many headlines. Let’s hope that a healthy dose of truth can make some headlines as well.