A new Public Health UK communication campaign claims that e-cigarettes are 95% less dangerous than conventional tobacco. What is the reality behind this figure?
While among many researchers and experts, skepticism against electronic cigarettes continues to gain ground, Public Health UK recently stated that vaping is 95% less dangerous than smoking conventional cigarettes. They also claimed that this method could really help smokers to stop smoking.
Campaign vs reality
This statement is the subject of a new campaign launched by the government. It encourages smokers in the UK to switch to electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking. The campaign is illustrated by a video comparing the amount of residue (tars and other residues) accumulated in the lungs of a smoker and in those of a vaper.
Unfortunately, this demonstration does not provide a sufficient basis to consider e-cigarettes as being harmless. As the report on which the public health ad is based points out: ‘Asserting that vaping is 95% less dangerous than smoking remains a good way to clearly communicate the vast difference in relative risk, so that more smokers are encouraged to switch from smoking to vaping. Note that this does not mean that e-cigarettes are safe.’
The figures behind the ad
Do electronic cigarettes really help to smoking? ‘It is plausible that e-cigarettes are contributing [to the smoking cessation we measured in 2017],’ the report says. Out of 14 studies analysing the relationship between vaping and smoking cessation, 7 said more research is needed, 4 found inconclusive results, 2 found a positive effect and 1 found a negative effect (fewer people quit smoking when they switched to the electronic cigarette).
As for the figure of 95%, it comes from a previous report published in 2015, and follows the following logic: the components of cigarettes dangerous to health are present at less than 5% in e-cigarettes, which is therefore 95% less dangerous, knowing that the products present have not been associated with any serious risk.
This statistic has since not been updated taking into account recent studies published on the dangers of vaping on health (destruction of lung cells, presence of toxic heavy metals in the smoke, etc.). Is vaping therefore safer than smoking? Although this statement is possible or even probable, more studies will be needed to know the real risks associated with electronic cigarettes. In any case, do not hesitate to contact specialists if quitting smoking is on your list of resolutions for 2020.