British government backs e-cigarettes for smokers
PHE encourages smokers to switch to e-cigarettes in order to stop smoking and to reduce smoking-related diseases and deaths. The agency strongly rejects the claim that vaping is a pathway to smoking:
There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are undermining the long-term decline in cigarette smoking among adults and youth, and may in fact be contributing to it.
Additionally, PHE refutes scaremongering about nicotine poisoning (a subject I previously discussed here):
When used as intended, e-cigarettes pose no risk of nicotine poisoning to users, but e-liquids should be in ‘childproof’ packaging. The accuracy of nicotine content labeling currently raises no major concerns.
I have noted here and here that some researchers have fabricated claims that vapor contains dangerous levels of formaldehyde. PHE rejects the assertion:
Two recent worldwide media headlines asserted that e-cigarette use is dangerous. These were based on misinterpreted research findings. A high level of formaldehyde was found when e-liquid was over-heated to levels unpalatable to e-cigarette users, but there is no indication that…users are exposed to dangerous levels of aldehydes.
Unfortunately, the PHE report overreaches in one respect. It says that “best estimates show e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful to your health than normal cigarettes,” and this became the dominant media headline upon the report’s release. To be accurate, PHE should have reported that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than combustible cigarettes, without specifying a percentage; there is no hard data to support a number.
The 95 percent is derived from the reported opinions of a group of international experts in a publication last year. The opinions were merely “guestimates”. In truth, the health risks of long-term vaping are not known, and they are at this time unknowable. While there is universal agreement among tobacco research and policy experts that inhaling a vapor of propylene glycol, nicotine and flavoring agents is vastly safer than inhaling smoke containing thousands of toxins, the precise risk differential is unknown.
I routinely criticize e-cigarette opponents for violating scientific principles when they make outrageous claims against the products. Recognizing that the PHE report is a welcome endorsement of tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes, I am disappointed that its value is at all compromised by a comparison that cannot be scientifically validated.