"E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco and could be prescribed on the NHS in future to help smokers quit," BBC News reports.
This is the main finding of an evidence review (PDF, 485kb) carried out by Public Health England, a government agency that aims to protect and improve the nation's health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities.
What are e-cigarettes?
Most e-cigarettes contain a battery, an atomiser and a replaceable cartridge. The cartridge contains nicotine in a solution of either propylene glycol or glycerine and water, and sometimes flavourings.
When you suck on the device, a sensor detects the air flow and starts a process to heat the liquid inside the cartridge, so it evaporates to form water vapour. Inhaling this vapour delivers a hit of nicotine straight to your lungs.
Unlike "traditional" cigarettes, they do not contain the many dangerous chemicals that can increase the risk of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.
What are the main findings of the review?
- There has been a rise in e-cigarette use that has been matched by a corresponding decrease in smoking.
- E-cigarettes are now the most popular quitting aid in England.
- There is good-quality evidence that e-cigarettes can be effective in helping people quit smoking.
- While data on their long-term safety is unavailable, expert opinion is that e-cigarettes are around 95% safer than smoking.
- When used as intended, e-cigarettes pose no risk of nicotine poisoning.
- E-cigarettes release negligible amounts of nicotine into the environment, and no health risks to bystanders (e.g. passive smoking) have been identified.
What suggestions does the review make?
- E-cigarettes should not be treated in the same way as normal cigarettes and their use should not be banned in prisons and hospital trusts.
- E-cigarettes offer the potential of providing a low-cost, effective intervention that could help England’s 8 million smokers to quit the habit for good.
- Stop smoking services should actively engage with smokers who want to use e-cigarettes to quit.
- Once e-cigarettes are regulated as medical products – which is expected in 2016 – e-cigarettes could be made available by the NHS on prescription.