In a move that differs from most public health experts’ opinion, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in Britain has thrown their weight behind e-cigarettes to help smokers quit. Highlighting how deadly and addictive cigarette smoking is, the influential group has concluded that using e-cigarettes is "much safer" than conventional tobacco use.
Calling it the first genuinely new smoking cessation technique, the group maintained that e-cigarettes are helping users more than harming them.
These devices heat and then vaporize flavored nicotine liquid to deliver vapor to the smoker’s lungs through inhalation.
Nicotine Without The Risks
While nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gums and patches are deemed most effective particularly when combined with professional health support, e-cigarettes are proving to be way more popular.
The main basis for the RCP's support appears to follow a pragmatic view: quitting smoking is tough because people are addicted to nicotine. A handy solution then is to provide nicotine sans the tar and chemicals that are found in tobacco and implicated in diseases such as cancer and heart and lung illness.
Report author and Stirling University professor Linda Bauld said the key to smoking cessation is to ideally "use nothing." However, she added that nicotine through vaping can be encouraged to deliver a more sterile form of the substance than the riskier conventional cigarette.
"Until recently, nicotine products have been marketed as medicines to help people to quit," stated a summary of the 200-page report, which added that health hazards from long-term vapor inhalation from e-cigarettes are unlikely to go beyond 5 percent of the harm from tobacco smoking.
It downplayed concerns on e-cigarettes' potential to actually increase smoking through renormalizing the act and serving as a gateway for young individuals.
"To date, there is no evidence that any of these processes is occurring to any significant degree in the UK," it added. "Rather, the available evidence to date indicates that e-cigarettes are being used almost exclusively as safer alternatives to smoked tobacco."
RCP, however, pushed for solid regulation to reduce the adverse impacts of using e-cigarettes, although it should not be prohibitive in nature.
The medical group also warned that the tobacco industry has entered the e-cigarette market, potentially exploiting the products to market cigarettes and hinder wider tobacco control initiatives.
Based on the RCP's figures, 50 percent of all lifelong smokers prematurely die, losing around three months of life expectancy for every year smoked after age 35. That is typically equivalent to a decade of life going up in smoke.
They argued that vaping, on the other hand, comes with risks that are not even in the same ballpark. RCP adviser John Britton emphasized that with "sensible regulation" e-cigarette use can potentially contribute to prevent the premature death and disease caused by smoking.
Some U.S. experts, however, oppose the findings. Medicine professor Stanton Glantz, for instance, said this advice is taking England into a series of policies that will prove regrettable in five years, turning the country into a "giant experiment" on the tobacco industry’s behalf.
Others laud the report, positioning the two countries as having diametrically opposed positions on e-cigarette use. Public health professor Kenneth Warner said that while the U.S. is eyeing the hypothetical risks alone, the UK is likely focusing on the benefits.
A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency refuses to comment but reiterates its position: there is no conclusive evidence showing vaping’s safety and effectiveness.
However, e-cigarette use remains on the rise in the country. Among high school students, the rate of use climbed from 1.5 percent in 2011 to an astounding 16 percent in 2015. The number of teens who reported to have vaped climbed to 3 million last year, a half-million increase from 2014.
Smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. with nearly 500,000 dying of smoking-related conditions each year.
Photo: Lindsay Fox | Flickr