The Truth About E-Cigarettes

14 March 2018

So much of the coverage of e-cigarettes in the media portrays them in a negative way, and this has led to confusion among the general public and the misperception that e-cigarettes are as harmful as tobacco cigarettes.

We want all smokers to be given accurate and balanced information about the relative risks of smoking and e-cigarette use, so we’ve put together an FAQ to help you make an informed decision.

I’ve read that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking. What’s the point in switching?

Vaping is safer than smoking. According to the latest independent review published by Public Health England in February 2018, vaping with e-cigarettes is at least 95% safer than smoking. Although at their lowest rates to date, smoking rates in Yorkshire (17.6%) are higher than the average for England (15.5%). This means there are around 750,000 adult smokers in Yorkshire. If all the smokers in Yorkshire were to switch to e-cigarettes, thousands of lives could be saved.

Why should I use e-cigarettes instead of a different method like patches or stop smoking medicines?

You should use whichever method works best for you. However, e-cigarettes have become the most popular stop smoking aid and people who use them with the help of local stop smoking services are more likely to quit successfully. You may need to try a few different types of e-cigarette to find out what works best for you. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right first time.

But don’t e-cigarettes contain nicotine? Isn’t that bad for you?

E-cigarettes do contain nicotine, which is inhaled through a vapour. While it is nicotine that causes tobacco cigarettes to be so addictive, on its own it is more or less harmless to most people. Nicotine does not cause smoking related diseases such as cancer. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. The main harm from smoking comes from the thousands of chemicals (around 4000) found in tobacco smoke, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. E-cigarettes do not contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.

E-cigarettes are not available on prescription through the NHS. Does that mean they’re not regulated? How do we know what they contain?

E-cigarettes are very strictly regulated in the UK. The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 mean that they are subject to minimum standards of quality and safety, as well as packaging and labelling requirements to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed choices. All products must be notified by manufacturers to the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), with detailed information including the listing of all ingredients.

It took a long time for the dangers of smoking to be fully realised. How do we really know if e-cigarettes are safe? Shouldn’t more research be carried out before people are encouraged to use them?

E-cigarettes are still relatively new and their long-term impact needs more research. But what we do know is that 1 in 2 long-term smokers will die as a result of smoking if they do not quit – so action needs to be taken now. We can’t afford to wait for 10 or 20 years for the long term impact to be reviewed, while in the meantime the health of hundreds of thousands of people across Yorkshire continues to be harmed from tobacco smoke.

I recently read about a study that found vaping can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease. Were the scientists wrong?

This story was based on a paper published in a scientific journal called Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study involved mice which were exposed to vapour at concentrate levels equivalent to that which a human would inhale for three hours a day, five days a week for three months, which is an extremely large dose of nicotine. The mice experienced DNA damage in the lungs, bladder, and heart. Damage was also found in cultured human lung and bladder cells that had been exposed to e-cigarette vapour for the equivalent of 10 years. What the study didn’t do was compare the damage caused by e-cigarette vapour against cigarette smoke, which we would expect would cause significantly more damage. What is important to remember is that the evidence to date suggests that e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes and although they are not completely risk free, they are far less harmful to users’ health.

Can e-cigarette vapour cause harm to other people?

There is no evidence that e-cigarette vapour causes harm to bystanders. This is very different to the strong evidence of harm to bystanders from exposure to second hand cigarette smoke which underpins UK smokefree laws. Unlike cigarettes, there is no side-stream vapour emitted by an e-cigarette into the atmosphere, just the exhaled aerosol. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions can be sensitive to a range of environmental irritants, which could include e-cigarette vapour, and Public Health England advises organisations to take this into account and to make adjustments where appropriate.

Do e-cigarettes encourage young people to start smoking?

There is little evidence that the rise in popularity of vaping has led to increased rates of smoking in adults or young people – in fact, smoking rates are continuing to fall in both groups. The latest studies show that most e-cigarette experimentation does not turn into regular use, and levels of regular use in young people who have never smoked remain very low.

I have heard that e-cigarettes can explode and cause fires. Is this true?

Fires caused by e-cigarettes occur in low numbers and are vastly outweighed by fires caused by smoking materials. Users should only use the charger supplied with their e-cigarette and discontinue use if there are any signs of damage.

My dad smoked all his life and didn’t get cancer. Why should I stop?

As a smoker the best thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking completely and for good. Lung cancer is the most common cancer in Yorkshire. Nearly 9 in 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking. However, it’s not just many lung cancers that could be prevented by stopping smoking – there are around 16 types of cancers caused by smoking including stomach, kidney, bowel, liver, bladder and ovarian cancers. Smoking can also increase your risk of other health conditions, including coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

If you have a question about vaping, please email and we will do our best to provide you with more information.

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