An updated evidence review by Public Health England has concluded that e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 people quitting smoking a year.
But the review says that many thousands of smokers still ‘incorrectly believe’ that vaping is as harmful as smoking, with around 40% of smokers never having tried an e-cigarette.
PHE said that the updated research showed that vaping was associated with improved quit success rates and an accelerated drop in smoking rates across the country last year.
PHE director for health improvement Professor John Newton said: ‘Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders. Yet over half of smokers either falsely believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or just don’t know.’
The review also found that a review was needed about how to ‘facilitate regulation of some e-cigarettes as medicines’, possibly including ‘more focus on post marketing surveillance’ and the provision of licences for short-term use.
A summary published by PHE went further, saying it ‘believes there is compelling evidence that e-cigarettes be made available to NHS patients’.
Professor Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling and Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention champion, said: ‘Concern has been expressed that e-cigarette use will lead young people into smoking. But in the UK, research clearly shows that regular use of e-cigarettes among young people who have never smoked remains negligible, less than 1%, and youth smoking continues to decline at an encouraging rate.
’We need to keep closely monitoring these trends, but so far the data suggest that e-cigarettes are not acting as a route into regular smoking amongst young people.’
PHE called on NHS trusts to become truly smoke free and ensure that e-cigarettes, alongside nicotine replacement therapies are available for sale in hospital shops; vaping policies support smokers to quit and stay smoke free; smoking shelters be removed; and frontline staff take every opportunity to encourage and support patients to quit.