By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) – More than half of UK smokers now wrongly believe that nicotine-containing “vapes” or e-cigarettes are as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes and these “false fears” are preventing smokers from switching, health experts said on Wednesday.
In a report commissioned by the health agency Public Health England (PHE), scientists at King’s College London said the mistaken belief that e-cigarettes are more harmful than smoking had gained ground rapidly following thousands of reported cases of lung injury in the United States in late 2019.
But the belief is “out of line” with expert reviews from Britain and the United States concluding that using regulated nicotine vapes is far less harmful than smoking, they said.
The report, the sixth by PHE on this issue, is likely to deepen divisions in opinion about the potential risks of e-cigarettes.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month it had recorded more than 2,800 cases of lung injury linked to vaping.
“It is concerning to see how much the U.S. lung disease outbreak has affected smokers’ views on e-cigarettes here in the UK,” said John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE.
“Safety fears may well be deterring many smokers from switching, leaving them on a path to years of ill health and an early death due to their smoking,” he said.
PHE says smoking causes 220 premature deaths a day in England alone.
Health authorities in the United States have said that vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent added to cannabis vapes, is the likely primary cause of the U.S. outbreak. The substance is banned from UK-regulated nicotine vapes and e-cigarettes.
John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies, said the PHE report’s findings were “disturbing”.
“Smoking remains the biggest avoidable cause of death and disability in the UK, and using electronic cigarettes is an effective means of quitting smoking,” he said.
He called for campaigns to ensure that “all smokers understand that switching to e-cigarettes is one of the most effective ways of quitting smoking and protecting their health”.
The report reiterated PHE’s view that “e-cigarettes are much less harmful than tobacco but are not completely safe”. They contain far fewer of the harmful chemicals which cause smoking-related diseases, it said, “but the long-term impact of using e-cigarettes will remain unknown for some time”.
The U.S. government has proposed a sweeping ban on all vaping flavours that are seen as attracting young users. The PHE cautioned against any similar move in Britain, saying it would deter smokers from switching and would “ultimately cost lives”.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Mark Potter)