Will Vaping Kill Me?
Public Health England recently announced that electronic cigarettes are 95% healthier than smoking. Why not 100%? We ask the experts
The Medical Consultant
Ram Moorthy is an ENT consultant and deputy chair of the British Medical Association Board of Science
There just isn’t enough robust research and evidence into vaping yet, so any benefits or disadvantages to public health aren’t fully established. Even their effectiveness as an aid to quit smoking hasn’t been conclusively established, and there are concerns over the varying ingredients used in different e-cigarette vapours.
The BMA supports the need for a strong regulatory framework for e-cigarettes. Regulating them as a licensed medicinal product should harness their capability as a tool for harm reduction, ensure their effectiveness, quality and safety, and provide the necessary controls on their promotion and sale. Until then, it’s foolish to say if they are really safe or not – we just don’t know.
The Study Co-Author
Professor Peter Hajek is from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine
The constituents of cigarette smoke that harm health are either absent in e-cigarette vapour or, if present, they are mostly at levels much below 5% of smoking doses. Hence the 95% figure.
Chemicals exclusive to e-cigarettes have not been associated with any serious risk, though it remains possible that some flavourings and constituents in e-cigarettes vapour may pose risks over the long term. The 5% residual risk is a cautious estimate allowing for this uncertainty.
E-cigarettes are a developing technology and they’ll need to be continually monitored to ensure that if any new concerns emerge, recommendations to smokers and regulatory requirements are revised accordingly. Is vaping relatively safe compared with smoking? Absolutely.
The Industry Spokesman
Tom Pruen is chief scientific officer for the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association
The Public Health England report uses the estimate of 95% to account for both the known risks and the potential for unknown dangers in the long term. In terms of what we know, there are some traces of harmful chemicals likely to have some ill effects associated with them, but at considerably less than 5%. This also includes the nicotine, which when separated from smoke is relatively harmless.
Then there is the unknown risk associated with things like flavourings. They’re considered safe as currently used, but they still might show some long-term effects.
As the science improves and potential problems are removed from the products, this 95% estimate is likely to increase. Could it reach 100%? That’s impossible to predict right now.
The Consumer Choice Advocate
Rob Lyons is campaigns manger for Action On Consumer Choice
We won’t know for certain about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes for some time – they’re just too new. However, there are good reasons to believe that Public Health England is being conservative and that e-cigs are even safer than that.
First, they were specifically designed not to produce harmful chemicals - and that includes nicotine, which in itself is no more dangerous than caffeine. Second, because thousands of people who have switched report better health very quickly.
E-cigarettes don’t suit everyone – many will continue to smoke regular cigarettes. But the best option is to leave consumers with as much choice as possible, so they can decide for themselves and even more innovation can take place.
Just about any lifestyle choice is safer than smoking, vaping included. Depending what brand you go for it’ll look like you’re either playing a tiny oboe or sucking on the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, but that’s a small sacrifice to make if it’s a choice between cigarettes and the electronic version. But the absolutely, totally 100% guaranteed healthiest option? Do neither.
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Max was the head of digital content for Men's Fitness which worked alongside Coach between 2015 and 2019.