E-cigarette vapour
New research says e-cigarettes are likely to help smokers quit smokingMark Blinch/Reuters

Amidst contradictory theories on the impact of e-cigarettes on a user's health, a research team at London's Royal College of Physicians has suggested that e-cigarettes are a much safer alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes. They claimed that electronic cigarettes caused less harm to a smoker.

The report titled, Nicotine Without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction, noted that despite a 50% decline in the number of smokers in the UK in the past 35 years, 8.7 million people smoked cigarettes in the country. The research found that e-cigarettes emerged as a popular alternative to tobacco products and that they could help smokers who intended to kick the habit. E-cigarettes are more popular than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), but since e-cigarettes are not currently made to medicine standards, they are probably more hazardous than NRT, the report concluded.

However, it added that the hazardous effects on health arising from long-term vapour inhalation from e-cigarettes are unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco. Also, technological developments and improved production standards could help in bringing down the long-term hazard of e-cigarettes.

The research highlighted that there is no evidence suggesting that e-cigarettes boosted tobacco smoking. Instead, evidence shows that e-cigarettes are being used by smokers who want to quit the habit or reduce physical harm.

Researchers called for regulations that could "reduce direct and indirect adverse effects of the use of e-cigarette" without promoting their use among non-smokers. "In the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes, NRT and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking in the UK," the report read.

The team explained that nicotine in tobacco products is not, in itself, a highly hazardous drug or a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). Lung cancer arises primarily from direct exposure of the organ to carcinogens in tobacco smoke – cardiovascular disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from the irritant and proinflammatory effects of smoke – and cardiovascular diseases arise from the effects of smoke on vascular coagulation and blood vessel walls.

The report pointed out that a detailed analysis of deaths caused by smoking in the UK – based on data from 2010 – revealed that smoking caused an estimated 122,000 deaths in adults, which equates to more than one in six of all deaths in the country. In 2003, more than 10,000 adults were estimated in the UK to have died from lung cancer, cardiovascular disease or Copd, caused by passive smoking.

"Half of all lifelong smokers die early, losing an average of about 3 months of life expectancy for every year smoked after the age of 35, some 10 years of life in total. Although smoking prevalence in the UK has reduced to 18%, 8.7 million people still smoke," the report said.