According to a recent 200-page report by the Royal College of Physicians, there is resounding scientific evidence that electronic cigarettes are “much safer” than smoking and can actually help smokers quit. Titled ‘Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction’, the paper concludes that through sensible regulation, vaping could improve the lives of millions of people.
Smoking prevalence in the United Kingdom has been reduced to an all-time low of 18%, but that still leaves 8.7 million who continue to smoke. “Half of all lifelong smokers die early, losing an average of about 3 months of life expectancy for every year smoked after the age of 35, some 10 years of life in total,” a recent post on the Royal College of Physicians website states. “Harm reduction provides an additional strategy to protect this group of smokers from disability and early death.”
Apparently, UK doctors consider electronic cigarettes a vital tool in the fight against smoking, and considering the growing controversy surrounding them, they have put together a beefy report to address all the misunderstandings and misinformation, based on the latest scientific evidence available. “The growing use of electronic cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco smoking has been a topic of great controversy, with much speculation over their potential risks and benefits. 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,” John Briton, chair of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, said.
Here are the main conclusions reached by the Royal College of Physicians:
- E-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking – in the UK, use of e-cigarettes is limited almost entirely to those who are already using, or have used, tobacco;
- E-cigarettes do not result in normalisation of smoking – there is no evidence that either nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or e-cigarette use has resulted in renormalisation of smoking. None of these products has to date attracted significant use among adult never-smokers, or demonstrated evidence of significant gateway progression into smoking among young people;
- E-cigarettes and quitting smoking – among smokers, e-cigarette use is likely to lead to quit attempts that would not otherwise have happened, and in a proportion of these to successful cessation. In this way, e-cigarettes can act as a gateway from smoking;
- E-cigarettes and long-term harm – the possibility of some harm from long-term e-cigarette use cannot be dismissed due to inhalation of the ingredients other than nicotine, but is likely to be very small, and substantially smaller than that arising from tobacco smoking. With appropriate product standards to minimise exposure to the other ingredients, it should be possible to reduce risks of physical health still further. Although it is not possible to estimate the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes precisely, the available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure.
If you’ve been following actual research on electronic cigarettes – and I’m not talking about the misleading propaganda pushed by mainstream media – these are all things you already know. Several studies carried out by reputable institutions like the UK’s Office for National Statistics, non-profit Action on Smoking and Health and French association Paris Sans Tabac (Tobacco-Free Paris), among others, have repeatedly shown that vaping is not a gateway to smoking. The same is true about the efficiency of e-cigarettes as quit-smoking aids, and the short and long-term risks they pose on users health.
For example, the UK National Health Service’s Stop Smoking Services have recently started helping smokers quit with the help of electronic cigarettes and early data is very promising. “The average quit rate in all smokers using SSSs was around 51%, and among e-cigarette users it was 66%,” the RCP report shows. “Although factors other than the product itself are likely to be involved in this difference, the finding is certainly consistent with high efficacy as a cessation therapy.”
It’s just that this kind of information is never given the attention it deserved by the media, who in turn chose to focus on sensationalist stories of exploding e-cigarettes – the vast majority of which can be attributed to human error – and bombastic so-called studies that claim e-cigarette vapor is a million times worse than polluted city air, the findings of which irritate members of the scientific community. So it’s actually quite nice and refreshing to see a reasonable report like ‘Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction’ getting some media coverage for a change.
Members of the Royal College of Physicians argue that sensible regulation focused on safety and quality control could lower the potential harm posed by e-cigarettes even further, but at the same time warn that if regulation “makes e-cigarettes less easily accessible, less palatable or acceptable, more expensive, less consumer friendly or pharmacologically less effective, or inhibits innovation and development of new and improved products, then it causes harm by perpetuating smoking.”
“Since the RCP’s first report on tobacco, Smoking and health, in 1962, we have argued consistently for more and better policies and services to prevent people from taking up smoking, and help existing smokers to quit. This new report builds on that work and concludes that, for all the potential risks involved, harm reduction has huge potential to prevent death and disability from tobacco use, and to hasten our progress to a tobacco-free society,” Royal College of Physicians president Jane Dacre said. “With careful management and proportionate regulation, harm reduction provides an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people. It is an opportunity that, with care, we should take.”
The RCP report touches on a number of important issues linked to e-cigarettes, and its conclusions are unanimously in the favor of vaping as a means of tobacco harm reduction. As Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a well-known cardiologist ans supporter of e-cigs as an alternative to smoking, notes on his website E-Cigarette Research, the report “is extremely important and is expected to be highly influential. It provides a valid and unbiased approach to currently-available evidence, presents any uncertainties about long-term risk without hysteria and intimidation, and accepts the huge potential of e-cigarettes in reducing smoking-related disease risk among smokers and the lack of evidence that e-cigarettes are acting as gateway to smoking.”
In the United States, where the attitude towards towards e-cigarette is considerably different from the UK, the RCP report has received mixed reactions. Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California and fervent opponent of vaping, said the following: “These guys, in my view, are going off a cliff. They are taking England into a series of policies that five years from now they all will really regret. They are turning England into this giant experiment on behalf of the tobacco industry.” Yeah, right, because the FDA’s proposed regulations for e-cigarettes are so NOT in the interest of Big Tobacco…
Others, like Kenneth E. Warner, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, have applauded the RCP’s report. “This is two countries taking pretty much diametrically opposed positions. One is focused exclusively on the hypothetical risks, none of which have been established. The other is focusing on potential benefits,” he said. “The British are saying, ‘Let’s see how we can help the main smokers today, who by the way are largely poor and less educated, and let’s not focus so much on kids, who may or may not be sickened by this 40 years down the line.'”
In Europe, the report has been unable to change the EU’s hostile attitude toward e-cigarettes. The European Court of Justice today ruled that the New Tobacco Directive is in line with efforts to protect public health. The contested provisions will limit the nicotine levels in e-liquids to 20 grams and restrict advertising and sponsorship by e-cigarette makers, among other things. UK company Totally Wicked had taken the EU to court over the contested Article 20 of the directive. The recent ruling of the European Court of Justice cannot be appealed.