Government says vaping 95% safer than smoking in push to get smokers to switch to e-cigarettes

Public Health England to counter 'false fears' over vaping's safety

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 28 December 2018 10:16
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Experiment shows extent of damage smoking does compared to e-cigarettes

The government is launching a campaign to convince smokers vaping is a significantly less damaging alternative to smoking.

Public Health England (PHE) says e-cigarettes are 95 per cent safer than tobacco, but that fewer than half of smokers are aware of this fact.

In a bid to counter "false fears" about vaping's safety, a new film by PHE demonstrates how the toxic chemicals and tar inhaled by an average smoker in just one month compares with not smoking or using an e-cigarette.

The health agency released footage from an experiment to show the devastating harm caused by smoking and how this can be avoided by switching to vaping or using another type of aid to quit.

The film is being released online as part of PHE's Health Harms campaign, which encourages smokers to try to quit this January by demonstrating the damage every single cigarette can do.

Research shows 44 per cent of smokers either wrongly believe vaping is as harmful as smoking or do not know that it poses much lower risks to health.

At least half a million smokers are expected to try to kick the habit this January and PHE is encouraging those who do to use its Personal Quit Plan to increase their chances of giving up for good.

The film features health experts Dr Lion Shahab and Dr Rosemary Leonard carrying out an experiment to visually demonstrate the high levels of cancer-causing chemicals and tar inhaled by an average smoker over a month compared with not smoking or using an e-cigarette.

Vaping disables the lung’s cleaning systems and could cause chronic diseases, study finds

The experiment mimics the effects of inhaling tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vape and normal air into the lungs, with the lungs represented by three bell jars filled with cotton wool.

Each bell jar is attached to a diaphragm pump providing a continual and equal draw of air through each bell jar - one set up to "smoke" tobacco cigarettes, another to "vape" e-cigarettes and the third used as the control with only air drawn through it.

By the end of the experiment, the cotton wool in the tobacco bell jar is brown, the inside of the bell jar is brown and the tube leading to the air pump is thick with tar.

In comparison, the cotton wool in the e-cigarette bell jar remains practically unchanged, with some water vapour on it and very slight discolouration from the colouring in the e-liquid.

The inside of the bell jar had a few droplets of water vapour, while the "control" bell jar is entirely unchanged.

PHE director of health improvement Professor John Newton said the experiment visually illustrates the stark contrast between the impacts of smoking and vaping.

Research estimates that, while not risk-free, vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.

Prof Newton said: "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 safety.

"We need to reassure smokers that switching to an e-cigarette would be much less harmful than smoking.

"This demonstration highlights the devastating harms caused by every cigarette and helps people see that vaping is likely to pose only a fraction of the risk.

"We want to encourage more smokers to try and quit completely with the help of an e-cigarette, or by using other nicotine replacement such as patches or gum, as this will significantly improve their chances of success.

"If you're trying to stop smoking, our free online Personal Quit Plan will help you find the support that's right for you."

Dr Shahab, a leading smoking cessation academic and associate professor in health psychology at University College London, said: "The false belief that vaping is as harmful as smoking could be preventing thousands of smokers from switching to e-cigarettes to help them quit.

"I hope this illustrative experiment helps people see the huge damage caused by smoking that could be avoided by switching to an e-cigarette.

"Research we and others have conducted shows that vaping is much less harmful than smoking and that using e-cigarettes on a long-term basis is relatively safe, similar to using licensed nicotine products, like nicotine patches or gum.

"Using e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement such as patches or gum will boost your chances of quitting successfully."

Smoking increases the risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions, including cancer and heart disease, and doubles the risk of dying from a stroke.

Of the 6.1 million smokers in England, six in 10 want to quit but many try to give up using willpower alone - or by going cold turkey - despite this being the least effective method.

The most successful attempts use a combination of effective stop-smoking support methods and recent research suggests that smokers who quit with the help of an e-cigarette are less likely to start smoking again.

PHE's Personal Quit Plan is a quick, free and easy-to-use digital tool to help smokers find the right support to help them quit, taking into account how much they smoke and any quitting support used previously.

NHS GP Dr Leonard said: "I wanted to be involved in this experiment because every day I see the devastating impact that smoking has on people's health but I rarely get the opportunity to actually show people what is happening inside their bodies when they smoke.

"I regularly give patients advice about quitting and when I recommend e-cigarettes I am often surprised to hear the misconceptions some people have about them.

"The results of this experiment clearly show that every cigarette you smoke causes tar to enter your body and spreads poison throughout your bloodstream.

"Vaping is much less harmful than smoking and I really hope this experiment will encourage smokers to make a quit attempt. No matter how old you are, it's never too late to stop."

Public health minister Steve Brine said: "Tough government action has driven down smoking rates to a record low, but it remains our biggest preventable killer.

"The evidence is clear that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and they are the most popular quitting method in England. When paired with local stop-smoking services, they have some of the highest success rates."

PHE said anyone who wants to try to quit smoking should search "Smokefree" on the internet to find the best way to suit them this new year.

Additional reporting by PA

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