An international review published today finds e-cigarettes are 70% more effective in helping smokers quit than nicotine replacement therapy. The findings come as public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) publish figures showing e-cigarette uptake dropped in 2020 compared to 2019. The Charity warns that unfounded concerns about health risks from e-cigarettes may mean thousands of smokers who could benefit from switching completely are missing the chance.
The review, produced by Cochrane, examined the best quality evidence on e-cigarettes for quitting smoking from around the world. They found that e-cigarettes were 70% more effective at helping smokers quit than the use of nicotine replacement therapy, currently the most commonly used medication to help smokers quit.
These important findings reinforce existing evidence and strengthen the case for more smokers to be encouraged to use these products to help them quit. However, data from ASH from their annual survey with YouGov found that in March 2020 there were 3.2 million e-cigarette users in Great Britain down from 3.6 million in 2019 . Almost all users are smokers or ex-smokers with use among never smokers very low.
The Charity points to a disappointing stagnation in the numbers of smokers who are using e-cigarettes given their proven impact on helping smokers quit. There has been little growth in the rate at which smokers use e-cigarettes since 2014. In 2020, 17.4% of smokers were using an e-cigarette; almost unchanged from 2014, when 17.6% reported current use. Unfounded concerns about the relative safety of e-cigarettes are a likely cause – just 39% of smokers in Great Britain correctly believe vaping is less harmful than smoking in 2020.
Vaping is much less harmful than continuing to smoke, with the Cochrane Review finding little evidence of short-term harms. However, as people are now using products longer term, continued research is needed to understand what, if any, risks there might be in the long term.
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said: ‘About a third of smokers have never even tried an e-cigarette and less than 20% are currently using one. If many more smokers could be encouraged to give e-cigarettes a go, the latest evidence indicates that many more might successfully quit.
“Health professionals have an important role to play. They can give smokers the confidence to try an e-cigarette, by letting them know that they can help them manage cravings and that they are a much safer alternative than continuing to smoke.’
Dr Nick Hopkinson, Reader in Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London and Chair of ASH said: ‘I see people every day in clinic whose lungs are damaged by smoking; many have tried to quit repeatedly but not been able to. E-cigarettes can help those who might otherwise struggle to quit successfully. I would urge colleagues throughout the NHS to join me in encouraging those smokers who could benefit to try using an e-cigarette. The more smokers we can get to quit today, the fewer people will be in our clinics and hospitals tomorrow.’
Dr Ruth Sharrock, Respiratory Consultant, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead said: ‘I see patients in clinic and on the wards, who are battling the complications of smoking-related diseases every day. Many have never tried using e-cigarettes, despite there being growing evidence that this might be a more successful way to reduce harm from tobacco for smokers who have failed with other quit methods. I urge them to try to switch and reassure them that the risks are vastly reduced compared to the fact that half of cigarette smokers die from a smoking-related disease. E-cigarettes have a valuable place in our armoury at tackling tobacco-related disease.’