Since e-cigarettes first emerged for mainstream use in 2007, there has been much conjecture and debate regarding the safety of vaping, benefits and potential long-term harm.
Some anti-smoking campaigners rushed to demonise the movement as equally damaging as normal cigarettes, but with the added danger that they re-normalise smoking within society as well as acting as a gateway drug for real cigarettes.
However, a new 200-page report released by the Royal College of Physicians has painted an entirely different picture.
The RCP has been a long-term supporter of the e-cigarette movement, even going as far as releasing the following statement in 2014 with very little room for differential interpretation: “Switching completely from tobacco to e-cigarettes achieves much the same in health terms as does quitting smoking and all nicotine use completely.”
Of course, this did little to deter those who hold beliefs to the contrary, with many respected publications happy to report non peer-reviewed studies purporting that e-cigs were even more carcinogenic that normal cigarettes – studies that were later found to have no empirically valid scientific conclusion.
Many of the key arguments that have been used against e-cigarettes have been rejected entirely by authors of the study, causing a furore amongst those who are campaigning for a ban. These include that theory that e-cigs encourage those who never smoked to join in with the ‘fashionable’ craze, and this ultimately leads onto real cigarettes.
But the study has found that vaping is a practice carried out almost entirely by those who have smoked and are looking to quit, rather than those looking to ‘start’. Furthermore, there is no evidence that e-cigarettes have ‘re-normalised’ the idea that smoking is acceptable, especially among those who have never previously smoked.
An important aspect of the report also refers to the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a method of quitting smoking entirely. Smoking cessation through the NHS to date has an 85% failure rate, whilst well-known products that have been on the market for years such as Nicotinell and NiQuitin achieve similar results. Many have pointed towards the high level of expense on behalf of the taxpayer to support NHS schemes are reason enough for a push towards e-cigs – an alternative that places the cost with the individual using the product in a voluntary capacity.
A final argument that many anti-smoking campaigners have used is that the long-term use of e- cigs could be just as harmful as normal smoking. Yet the RCP’s new report argues that with high quality regulation, the e-cig movement is the healthiest way to quit, pointing out that whatever the concerns regarding chemicals use, they are still safer than traditional cigarettes by leaps and bounds.
Whilst there is a certain social stigma in some quarters attached to e-cigarettes and ‘vapers’, similar to that against smokers, from a scientific standpoint the evidence is clear.
“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 UK,” said Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group.
“Smokers should be reassured that these products can help them quit all tobacco use forever.”
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