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Vaping is safer than smoking, new study

By Tim Sandle Aug 20, 2015 in Health

London – The e-cigarette versus traditional tobacco smoking has edged forward with a new study concluding e-cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco products.

The new evidence in favor of vaping has been provided by Public Health England, which is an agency of the U.K. government. The health organization has come down on the side of electronic cigarettes as a mechanism for weaning people away from tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes.

An electronic cigarette, also known as an e-cigarette, personal vaporizer or PV, is an electronic inhaler that vaporizes a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of tobacco smoking.

Public Health England has stated that, based on the evidence accumulated to date, e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. However, the report does not state e-cigarettes are harmless. A risk remains, albeit a much lower one than with any comparable tobacco based product, with their regular use. The health agency is particularly worried that e-cigarettes are perceived in the same way as traditional cigarettes, i.e. no safer.

Other key findings from the review are:

Nearly half the population (44.8 percent) do not realize e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking; and, there is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.

The main findings are contained in a comprehensive 111-page document titled “E-cigarettes: an evidence update.”

The U.K. health body also proposes that e-cigarettes should become a licensed medicine (which means coming under the regulation of a medicines agency, such as MHRA in the U.K. or FDA in the U.S.). By being licensed, this would allow medical practitioners to prescribe e-cigarettes as an alternative to other anti-smoking products such as nicotine patches.

Interviewed by The Guardian, the U.K. government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies is quoted saying it is the government’s preference that one day only licensed e-cigarettes be permitted to be sold: “I want to see these products coming to the market as licensed medicines. This would provide assurance on the safety, quality and efficacy to consumers who want to use these products as quitting aids, especially in relation to the flavorings used, which is where we know least about any inhalation risks.”

Whether this means a preference for e-cigarettes made available through pharmacies only is unclear. One reason for seeking control is because, as a separate review notes: “Under the current regulatory system individual e-cigarette products vary considerably in quality and specification.”That is, some products work better than others and some may be safer than others.

This tallies with the evidence gathered to date. Public Health England recommends that e-cigarettes are only used as a transitional means to move away from tobacco products. People, it cautions, who do not currently smoke should not begin using e-cigarettes and e-cigarettes used by former tobacco smokers should not be used for prolonged periods of time.

These additional caveats are important for a U.S. study has found that many teenagers, including those who have never smoked traditional tobacco products, have begun experimenting with e-cigarettes.

In terms of extended use, some studies suggest e-cigarette vapor contains toxic chemicals that are damaging to the body, particularly the immune system (see: Public Library of Science One “Exposure to Electronic Cigarettes Impairs Pulmonary Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Viral Defenses in a Mouse Model.”) To add to this, care is needed about over-use leading to nicotine poisoning, especially with young people. This risk was recently highlighted in a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Public Health England report has been generally welcomed by Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECTIA), which is the trade association of e-cigarette manufacturers. In a statement, the manufacturers’ group writes: “We are pleased that the public health community have recognized that the impact of a 95 percent reduction in harm when smokers move to e-cigarettes could be revolutionary.”

The position taken by Public Health England differs to that adopted by the World Health Organization. As Digital Journal reported last year: “The World Health Organization has called on e-cigarettes to be banned from indoor public spaces. Furthermore, the United Nations Agency has said that the devices pose a risk to adolescents and the fetuses of pregnant women.”

The Public Health England review is most comprehensive published to date. While it doe snot close off the debate, it moves the discussion about the practical use and benefits of e-cigarettes to a new level.

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