According to a report from the UK’s Royal College of Physicians, substituting electronic cigarettes for tobacco is beneficial to public health and should be encouraged for current smokers.
The recently released report rejects several safety arguments advanced against e-cigarettes in recent years. It argues that smoking tobacco is so deadly that any small potential risk from long-term e-cigarette use is outweighed by their lifesaving effects.
Among the report’s conclusions are that e-cigarettes aren’t a gateway to smoking tobacco for current nonsmokers and that they likely lead tobacco smokers to try to quit regular cigarettes when they otherwise wouldn’t.
“This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the U.K.,” said John Britton, director of the UK Center for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, who chaired the panel responsible for the report.
The report comes at a critical time for the e-cigarette industry, whose sales have fallen sharply in recent months. Confusion over the safety and health effects of the devices has contributed to a 6.2% decline in sales in the US for the year ended March 26, according to Nielsen data cited by Wells Fargo.
E-cigarette advocates are hoping the report by the Royal College of Physicians is as influential as the health body’s 1962 report on cigarettes. It was among the first to identify the health harms of smoking and preceded the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health by two years.
“This is a game changer,” said David Sweanor, a tobacco-control expert and adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa. He said confusion over the health consequences of e-cigarettes has “scared away a lot of investment and scared away a lot of consumers. We now have a very authoritative overview of the actual evidence [on e-cigarettes] that will inform policy.”
Most researchers have agreed for years that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes because they don’t combust and release carcinogens like traditional cigarettes.
A government impact assessment has warned that the restrictions set down in the tobacco products directive could drive users back to smoking, as well as hiking the price of e-cigarettes and creating a black market of products that fall outside the new regulations.
E-cigs Could Save Millions
Scientists in the UK say that if all smokers in the world switched from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, it could save millions of lives.
Rather than inhaling the toxic substances found in tobacco, e-cigarette users inhale vaporized liquid nicotine. Robert West, professor of health psychology at University College London, told delegates at the 2013 E-Cigarette Summit at London’s Royal Society that “literally millions of lives” could be saved.
“The big question, and why we’re here, is whether that goal can be realized and how best to do it... and what kind of cultural, regulatory environment can be put in place to make sure that’s achieved.
“I think it can be achieved but that’s a hope, a promise, not a reality,” he said.
This view was echoed by Dr Jacques Le Houezec, a private consultant who has been researching the effects of nicotine and tobacco.
He said that because the harmful effects of its main comparator, tobacco, e-cigarette use should not be over-regulated.
“We’ve been in the field for very long, this for us is a revolution. Every adolescent tries something new, many try smoking. I would prefer they try e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes,” Dr Le Houezec added.
Prof Farsalinos studies the health impacts of e-cigarette vapor. Despite the lack of regulation, he remained positive about the health risks associated with inhaling it.
An EU proposal to regulate e-cigarettes as a medicine was recently rejected, but in the UK e-cigarettes will be licensed as a medicine from 2016.