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UK doctors say smokers should switch to e-cigarettes

Report says 'no evidence' that the gadget renormalises smoking or that it's a gateway to picking up the habit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 1:41pm

Smokers looking to quit their tobacco addiction should be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes, despite the controversy surrounding the product, a U.K. medical body has advised.

In a report published Thursday, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said promoting e-cigarettes "as widely as possible" to the smoking community as an alternative to tobacco, could create "significant health gains" for society in the long run.

Since its introduction into western markets around 2006-2007, e-cigarettes have seen a large uptake in consumer interest, with some 2.6 million British adults using the product, according to a May 2015 report by public health charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). In that same report, almost all were smokers or ex-smokers, looking to reduce their tobacco intake.

In the report, "Nicotine without smoke," the doctors suggest the most effective method to quit tobacco is through nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gum and patches, combined with support from health professionals. However, they suggest e-cigarettes seem to be a much more popular method among smokers who are looking to quit, compared to NRT.

One of the report's main objectives is to find ways to achieve a "tobacco-free society" and look at any risks surrounding non-tobacco nicotine products. When looking at e-cigarettes, physicians' state there is "no evidence" that the gadget triggers the renormalisation of smoking, adding that it wasn't a "gateway to smoking".

Many countries and leading organizations have looked into how to tackle tobacco use, such as the World Health Organization's appeal to remove tobacco imagery in films ; and governments placing warnings or plain designs on cigarette packaging.

The RCP is the latest institution to come out in support of e-cigarette use, with Public Health England saying last August, that the product was 95 per cent safer than smoking, and could help over 8 million Britons end their tobacco addiction.

"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 U.K.," said Professor John Britton, RCP's tobacco advisory group chair, in a statement.

"Smokers should be reassured that these products can help them quit all tobacco use forever."

From May 2016, producers of new e-cigarettes and refill container products in the U.K., will have to comply with the EU's Tobacco Products Directive, which looks at setting standards for safety and quality on these products.

The main question concerning many health experts and society however are the long-term effects of e-cigarettes and what impacts they may have on people's health, as today's electronic product has only been around for less than two decades.

"On a pure continuum of risk basis at an individual level (with tobacco cigarettes being the most harmful to people's health) it's likely that NRT products (such as gum, patches) carry a slightly lower risk profile than e-cigarettes (but both are vastly less risky than tobacco cigarettes)," says Shane MacGuill, head of tobacco at Euromonitor.

"However, it seems to be possible (or even probable), that e-cigarettes are much more appealing to smokers and can keep them from consuming combustible products more effectively, and therefore in the sense of 'preventing smoking', they are 'better'."

The RCP do address the issue of long-term effects in their report, suggesting that there is a "possibility of some harm", however it is likely to be "substantially smaller" to smoking tobacco goods. They add that any potential hazards from e-cigarettes could easily be reduced following further development in the product's technology, along with an "appropriate" level of regulation.

The report concludes suggesting that the evidence provided reveals that e-cigarettes' arrival has "generated a massive opportunity for a consumer as well as a healthcare-led revolution in the way that nicotine is used in society."