British authorities want to reduce smoking in the country from 15 to 5 per cent by 2030, with e-cigarettes playing a key role, according to their latest report.
Quitting smoking is an arduous journey. Most smokers want to, but statistics show that most people try to quit without help, ends with relapse. At the same time, research shows that the chances of success increase if smokers use some form of assistive device.
"Sceptical about e-cigs first"
In the UK, authorities are therefore fully committed to supporting multiple methods of smoking cessation, including the use of e-cigarettes. Following a government decision, Public Health England has set a target to reduce smoking in England from 15 per cent to below 5 per cent. In just ten years. And electronic cigarettes have become an important part of the strategy, according to professor John Newton, Head of Health Promotion at the UK Department of Health.
'When e-cigarettes appeared on the market 10 years ago, we became very interested in how the technology could be used in tobacco control work. We were sceptical at first, of course. But we started collecting data and it soon became clear that e-cigarettes have already established themselves among smokers as a method to quit smoking. And with success," he tells CNBC television channel.
Investing in research on e-cigarettes
Since 2015, Public Health England has compiled several reports and analysed the available research on e-cigarettes, both at global and local level. The report "Vaping in England - an evidence update" has become the benchmark for political decisions and health promotion policies in the country. The document is a living report that is updated annually, as new data is published. At present, the report summarises over 2000 studies, with nearly 500 more added each year.
"Life-changing for smokers"
The message from the Department of Health is that e-cigarettes are 95% safer to use than analogue cigarettes. And that smokers can improve their health if they manage to swap smoking for vejping.
"We wanted to make it clear that using e-cigarettes is significantly less harmful than smoking. Tobacco smoke contains tar, carbon monoxide and thousands of other toxic substances that cause cancer, cardiovascular disease and nerve damage; it is among the absolute worst things you can do to your body. Only a fraction of these substances are present in the vapour from an e-cigarette. They are not completely risk-free, but for a smoker, switching can be a life-changing decision. " says John Newton.
Unknown risks versus known risks
But the strategy is controversial and the report has attracted a lot of attention abroad. E-cigarettes are a relatively new technology that has only been on the market for just over 10 years. The health effects of long-term use are not fully understood. But that is not the main issue, according to John Newton.
"Cigarettes kill almost every second smoker. We know that. We will of course monitor the risks of e-cigarettes as well. But we also need to put these potential risks in the right perspective. It would be extremely unfortunate if a smoker decides not to try an e-cigarette just because they are worried about the risks. That's why we need to be clear in how we formulate our message," says Mr Perez. John Newton.
Hospitals allow e-cigarettes
In 2020, the authorities, together with other state-supported non-profit organisations, launched several campaigns on e-cigarettes and the findings of research. In the summer of 2019, vejpshoppes also opened in two of the country's hospitals. At the same time, smoking was completely banned in the hospital area. The aim was clear: to encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes. In other parts of the country, authorities distributed free e-cigarettes to smokers, including by seeking out workplaces with a high proportion of smokers.
As effective as drugs
Today (2021), nearly 2.5 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes regularly. The spread of e-cigarettes among smokers is a good sign, according to the Public Health Agency of England. Vaping products increase the chances of quitting smoking by almost 20 per cent, twice as much as with nicotine patches (9 per cent) and at the same level as the drug varenicline. The difference between varenicline and e-cigarettes is their popularity among smokers. And this is something that makes e-cigarettes an effective weapon in the fight against smoking, says the agency.
'The number of successful quit attempts is the same for varenicline as for e-cigarettes. But only five per cent of smokers choose varenicline while 13 per cent used e-cigarettes. This means that vejpning is helping significantly more smokers to quit every year," writes the UK Public Health Agency in its latest update on "Vaping in England: an evidence update"