Skip header navigation

Vaping is less of a risk than smoking, study finds

Back to news

Vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking, according to a major new study involving a University of Stirling academic.

Professor Linda Bauld, working with Cancer Research UK, is part of the team behind the Public Health England (PHE) e-cigarette evidence review.

The study found that switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits, and also did not support concerns that e-cigarette use is a route into smoking among young people, the team said.

Professor Linda Bauld

Professor Linda Bauld, of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, is part of the research team behind the Public Health England e-cigarette evidence review.

E-cigarette use is associated with improved quit success rates over the last year and an accelerated drop in smoking rates across the country, the experts said, with vaping contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits a year.

However, the research also confirmed that thousands of smokers incorrectly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking, with 40 per cent of smokers having not even tried an e-cigarette.

Professor Bauld, Professor of Health Policy at Stirling and Chair in Behavioural Research for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: “Concern has been expressed that e-cigarette use will lead young people into smoking. But, in the UK, research clearly shows that regular use of e-cigarettes among young people who have never smoked remains negligible, less than one per cent, and youth smoking continues to decline at an encouraging rate.

“We need to keep closely monitoring these trends, but so far the data suggest that e-cigarettes are not acting as a route into regular smoking amongst young people.”

Nicotine

The team’s work also revealed that there is much public misunderstanding about nicotine, with less than 10 per cent of adults understanding that most harms to health from smoking are not caused by nicotine.

Lead author Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London, said: “It’s of great concern that smokers still have such a poor understanding about what causes the harm from smoking. When people smoke tobacco cigarettes, they inhale a lethal mix of 7,000 smoke constituents, 70 of which are known to cause cancer.

“People smoke for the nicotine, but contrary to what the vast majority believe, nicotine causes little if any of the harm. The toxic smoke is the culprit and is the overwhelming cause of all the tobacco-related disease and death. There are now a greater variety of alternative ways of getting nicotine than ever before, including nicotine gum, nasal spray, lozenges and e-cigarettes.”

PHE’s evidence review comes just a few weeks after a US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report on e-cigarettes. Their conclusion on e-cigarette safety also found that, based on the available evidence, “e-cigarettes are likely to be far less harmful than combustible tobacco cigarettes”.

Professor John Newton, Director for Health Improvement at PHE, said: “Every minute someone is admitted to hospital from smoking, with around 79,000 deaths a year in England alone.

“Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95 per cent less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders. Yet over half of smokers either falsely believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or just don’t know.

“It would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about their safety.”

Scroll back to the top