Cigarette smokers in the UK are being encouraged to switch to electronic cigarettes, which the Royal College of Physicians says are much safer than regular tobacco cigarettes, The New York Times reports. The recommendations, released today by the prestigious medical group in the UK, come as a bit of a surprise, as reports about e-cigs have mainly focused on the negatives, especially in the US.
"Smokers should be reassured that these products can help them quit all tobacco use forever."
The report goes over several scientific studies that analyze the harms and benefits of e-cigarettes and asserts that the devices, which vaporize liquid nicotine, can successfully help smokers quit. Though the report acknowledges that e-cigarettes are probably more dangerous than other nicotine-replacement therapies, because they’re not made following the same safety standards, it says that vaping is only 5 percent as bad as smoking regular tobacco cigarettes.
"The growing use of electronic cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco smoking has been a topic of great controversy, with much speculation over their potential risks and benefits," John Britton, chair of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, said in a statement. "This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the UK. Smokers should be reassured that these products can help them quit all tobacco use forever."
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has mainly focused on the potential hazards of e-cigarettes, especially in relation to teen smoking. Because they’re still unregulated, e-cigs come in flavors like chocolate and cherry, which appeal to teens. (Such flavors are banned in regular tobacco cigarettes.) Last year, the CDC declared that e-cigs have overtaken regular cigarettes in middle and high schools in the US, a phenomenon it called alarming. The RCP report says that there is no evidence in the UK that e-cigs are a gateway drug to tobacco smoking. Instead, the report focuses more on how e-cigs could be used to effectively get smokers off regular cigarettes, which contain tar and other cancer-causing chemicals.
"There is currently no conclusive scientific evidence supporting the use of e-cigarettes as a safe and effective cessation tool."
In a statement to The Verge, the CDC said that it wouldn’t comment on the report. Instead, the agency said: "There is currently no conclusive scientific evidence supporting the use of e-cigarettes as a safe and effective cessation tool. The science thus far indicates most e-cigarette users in the United States continue to smoke conventional cigarettes."
In the UK, e-cigs are just somewhat regulated. In 2015, the UK released voluntary standards for the manufacture, labeling, and marketing of vaping products, including e-cigs. And it banned the sale of e-cigs to minors. In the US, regulations still need to be finalized by the government, although they were first proposed by the FDA in 2014.