Vaping Health Report

Published by Matt Brown on 20th Aug 2015

This week has brought some very welcome news in the shape of a new report commissioned by Public Health England. The report describes vaping as ‘game changer’ in persuading people to give up cigarettes, and makes some very sensible recommendations as well as concluding that electronic cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than tobacco.

Update Dec 2018: In December 2018, Public Health England reaffirmed its stance, publishing updated guidance and a new video demonstrating the difference between smoking and vaping.
Prof John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, also said: “It would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about safety."

The report represents a significant turning point for press coverage and the wider public perception of vaping. Until now, with relatively few exceptions, reporting of e-cigarettes has been consistently negative in tone.

Professor Ann McNeill, one of the authors of the report said:

"At the moment, 80,000 people [in England] die every year as a result of cigarette smoking. If everybody who was smoking switched to e-cigarettes that would reduce to about 4,000 deaths a year. That's the best estimate at the moment. It may well be much, much lower than that."

Among its recommendations, the report suggests that e-cigs could be prescribed through the NHS for smokers who are struggling to quit using NRT. Prescription is a logical step given that other NRT products are available through the NHS, however there is no need to medicalise e-cigarettes. People don’t need to switch to vaping in order to stop smoking; they should be encouraged to switch because it’s better than smoking. It is, however, very uplifting that GPs should now be more willing to recommend vaping to their patients without prescription.

For too long, reporting has been based around the negative opinions of a few spokespeople for the BMA, MHRA and WHO. This report offers actual evidence from a government body which states that e-cigs have the capacity to actually save lives, to the point that it recommends that it may be appropriate to prescribe them through the NHS. You can’t refute facts.

It also comes hot on the heels of the Scottish Government’s decision to shelve plans to ban vaping in public spaces, a sensible reversal of a misguided policy. We can only hope that the Welsh Government decides to reverse the similar ban recently passed there.

What’s also of note in the report is the recognition of the negligible uptake of vaping among those who have never smoked, which echoes the figures published by ASH in their May 2015 Fact Sheet, nor is it a ‘gateway’ for children to begin smoking. This further strengthens the case that far from ‘normalising’ smoking, e-cigs are contributing to the decline in the number of adults who smoke.

Public Health England also make the very important point that some regulation is needed in order to ensure products available on the market are safe and effective. Whilst it is true that some devices on the market are untested and uncertified, the market until now has been largely effective in regulating itself.

We welcome the report and look forward to a more sensible approach to regulation and reporting from now on.