E-cigarettes are ‘beneficial to public health’ and their use should be ‘widely promoted’, a major study from the Royal College of Physicians has concluded.
In a 200-page report, written by members of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, the college concluded that electronic cigarettes do encourage people to quit smoking altogether, and that they do not act as a gateway to smoking in adults or children.
Having collated and reviewed evidence from a range of studies from all over the world, the panel said they would encourage health professionals to have a wider role to in ‘providing support and reassurance to e-cigarette users’.
The study found that e-cigarettes do not result in the normalisation of smoking and that people who have never smoked before are unlikely to start using e-cigarettes.
It could not rule out the potential of long-term harm from e-cigarette vapours due to a lack of data, but concluded that ‘significant long-term harm is unlikely’ and, in any case, would not reach anywhere near those caused from smoking conventional cigarettes.
The report said: ‘Large-scale substitution of e-cigarettes, or other non-tobacco nicotine products, for tobacco smoking has the potential to prevent almost all the harm from smoking in society.
‘Promoting e-cigarettes, [nicotine replacement therapy] and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible, as a substitute for smoking, is therefore likely to generate significant health gains in the UK.’
E-cigarettes have sparked debate since their introduction to the UK market in 2007, in both medical and public health circles, and the medical profession expressed a variery of views when the Government recently decided to make e-cigarettes available on prescription.
Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, said: ‘This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over [e-cigarettes], 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 UK.’
Dr Alex Bobak, a GPSI in smoking cessation, welcomed the report, but added: ‘The only caveat I would have is that up to 90% of e-cigarette users continue to smoke at least some cigarettes and we know that any smoking carries significant risk.
‘I would therefore encourage anyone who uses e-cigarettes to stop smoking completely rather than just cut down.’
BMA board of science deputy chair Ram Moorthy said the RCP’s report would help inform the debate, but said the BMA would still like to see e-cigarettes licensed as a medicinal product as this ‘best reflects their use for harm reduction and ensures their effectiveness, quality, and safety’.
He said: ‘It is certainly interesting to see the RCP assessment of tobacco harm reduction, which recognises the potential for e-cigarettes to reduce harm associated with tobacco use.
‘E-cigarettes are increasingly being used by current and ex-smokers to help cut down and quit smoking, so regulation should focus on making sure that these devices are safe and effective for those wanting to stop smoking, and ensuring their marketing does not appeal to children and young people.’