Vaping in England: an evidence update

Public Health England (PHE) has recently published the seventh report in a series of independent reports commissioned to explore the implications of vaping, as reported in our blog post. The aim has been to explore all evidence regarding vaping products and their use. The latest evidence review was conducted by researchers at King’s College London. The resulting report will inform policies and regulations in the UK moving forward.

Smoking and health

quit smoking todayIn the UK, smoking is the largest risk factor for premature death and the number of years lived in ill-health. While there is some debate over the safety of vaping, Public Health England remains steadfast in its assertion that vaping is 95% safer than smoking.

However, the report highlights that the perceptions of the potential dangers of vaping are increasingly out of step with the available evidence. Public Health England fears that this could be discouraging smokers from using vaping as a means to quit.

Is vaping as harmful as smoking?

The latest report collated the results of six different surveys. One of these was the The Smoking Toolkit Study, 2020 (STS). This found that 38% of smokers in the UK believe that vaping is as dangerous as smoking. Surprisingly, 18% of smokers believe that vaping is more dangerous than smoking.

It is estimated that 78,000 people die each year in the UK from smoking related illnesses. How does the risk of vaping compare?

In May 2016, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) established the Yellow Card scheme. This was evolved to identify, and monitor safety concerns related to medicines, vaping products and devices. Reporting is voluntary and anyone can contact the agency with a report about an adverse reaction.

The PHE recent report includes the latest data from the MHRA regarding suspected vaping related deaths. The number of such deaths reported in the four and a half years since the Yellow Card scheme began is…………. 3.

Of course, more research is needed. There may have been deaths which should have been identified as related to vaping and were not. There could have been vaping related issues which were seen but not reported to the MHRA. It should also be considered that vaping is a relatively new phenomenon and so it is not yet possible to accurately assess its long-term effects.

Having said all that, the number of vapers who are experiencing problems is clearly very small. The number of smokers who are dying is enormous.

In short, the report indicates that smoking will probably kill you, vaping probably won’t.

Does vaping help smokers to quit?

The report also explores whether vaping is effective in helping people to stop smoking. It features the results of a survey by ASH. This suggests that:

  • Vaping is now the most popular means of quitting smoking
  • In 2015, more than 50,000 smokers quit by using vaping products
  • Using vaping to quit has a very high success rate (up to 74%)

Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at PHE, said:

“The best thing that a smoker can do is to stop smoking completely and the evidence shows that vaping is one of the most effective quit aids available, helping around 50,000 smokers quit a year.”

“PHE’s advice remains that smokers should switch to vaping products to help them quit smoking, but non-smokers should not take up vaping”.

Vaping in England: Conclusions

The Vaping in England report is a lengthy and sometimes complex document. It explores numerous aspects of vaping, some of which we will look at in future articles. But the most important elements of the report are surely those concerning the safety of vaping and its impact on quitting smoking.

Public Health England remains convinced that vaping is far safer than smoking. The ASH survey confirms that many smokers have managed to quit thanks to vaping.

The principle concern expressed in the report is not the safety of vaping but the fact that the number of smokers turning to vaping has plateaued. This is very likely to be the result of mistaken beliefs about the safety of vaping.

Remember, all available evidence in the UK suggests that smoking will probably kill you, vaping probably won’t.

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