Review suggests e-cigarettes are ‘significantly less’ harmful than tobacco

In collaboration with the Press Association

An independent review, commissioned by Public Health England, has suggested e-cigarettes are ‘at least 95 per cent less harmful’ than smoking tobacco.

The estimate is based on the likely overall harmful health and economic impacts of a range of nicotine products.

"Evidence points to e-cigarettes actually helping people to give up smoking tobacco" - Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK

But the finding runs counter to public perception: nearly half of people questioned (45.6 per cent) didn’t realise that e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking.

The comprehensive analysis was led by Professor Ann McNeill, of King’s College London, and Professor Peter Hajek, of Queen Mary University of London. Both experts recognised e-cigarettes have a role to play in tackling smoking, which is the biggest killer in the UK.

"There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are undermining England's falling smoking rates,” said Professor McNeill. “Instead the evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking."

Tobacco is responsible for around 100,000 deaths every year. It causes more than eight out of ten lung cancers, plus at least 13 other types including mouth and throat cancers.

“Fears that e-cigarettes have made smoking seem normal again, or even led to people taking up tobacco smoking, are not so far being realised based on the evidence assessed by this important independent review,” said Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s expert in cancer prevention. 

“In fact, the overall evidence points to e-cigarettes actually helping people to give up smoking tobacco,” she added.

But Professor Bauld said that, while research on e-cigarettes continues, smokers wanting to quit should consider using Stop Smoking Services.

“Free Stop Smoking Services remain the most effective way for people to quit, but we recognise the potential benefits for e-cigarettes in helping large numbers of people move away from tobacco,” she said.

“Cancer Research UK is funding more research to deal with the unanswered questions around [e-cigarettes] including the longer-term impact.”

The review highlighted that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in Britain are current or ex-smokers. Most of them use the devices to help reduce the harm from tobacco by stopping smoking, cutting down, or to prevent them going back to cigarettes. 

And the researchers noted that some of the highest reported successful quit rates are seen among smokers who use an e-cigarette alongside additional support from their local Stop Smoking Services.

But the analysis showed that only around one in five people (22.1 per cent) think e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful than smoking, up from 8.1 per cent in 2013, and a further 22.7 per cent aren’t sure.

The report also found no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.