Government health officials want to see e-cigarettes handed out to smokers on the NHS, after a review that claims vaping "removes all the risks" smoking poses to health.
Public Health England say that much of the public wrongly believes that e-cigarettes carry health risks in the same way cigarettes do.
But a new research claims that this is not the case and PHE wants to see smokers taking up the electronic devices to reduce the thousands of people dying from tobacco-related diseases every year.
PHE said there is no evidence to date that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers, with almost all the 2.6 million adults using them in the UK either current or ex-smokers, and most of them using the devices to help them quit or stop returning to tobacco.
However, research by scientists in the US has shown that e-cigarette flavourings can be potentially harmful and cause respiratory problems.
The health experts also note that GPs and stop-smoking services are not able to prescribe or recommend e-cigerettes because they are not currently licensed for medicinal purposes, but they hope that the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will green-light some products soon.
Professor Peter Hajek, of Queen Mary University London and another independent author of the review, told a briefing in central London that nicotine carries very few health risks and is much less poisonous than previously believed.
He said the main health issues surrounding e-cigarettes concern other ingredients, contaminants and by-products, which can generate some toxicants - but these are at the very low levels found in the air that people generally breathe.
" My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health.
– Professor Peter Hajek, Queen Mary University London"
Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and well-being at PHE, said people who use e-cigarettes to help them to quit smoking would see the best results if this was carried out in conjunction with local stop smoking services. "The best thing that a smoker can do is to quit and to quit forever and that there a range of tools which are available to help all smokers quit," he said was the message PHE wanted to get out:
Professor Fenton added:
" Smoking remains England's number one killer and the best thing a smoker can do is to quit completely, now and forever. E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. Local stop smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely.
– Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE"
Whilst it is hard to know just how many lives could be saved by smokers switching to e-cigarettes, the review claims that around 80,000 deaths a year in England are caused by smoking - the leading cause of preventable deaths in the country.
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