E-cigarettes: Important stop smoking aid or public health risk?

E-cigs are back in the news
E-cigs are back in the news
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Rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed to help accelerate already declining smoking rates, MPs have said.

But do you think they are a help or a hindrance?

E-cigarettes are back in the news.

A new report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) says rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed to help accelerate already declining smoking rates. MPs said there should be an urgent review to make it easier for e-cigarettes to be made available on prescription, as well as a wider debate over rules on their use in public spaces and how they are allowed to be advertised.

- A healthier alternative?

A landmark review by Public Health England (PHE) published in 2015 said vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking tobacco. The body said much of the public wrongly believed that e-cigarettes carry health risks in the same way cigarettes do. PHE wants to see smokers taking up the electronic devices to reduce the thousands of people dying from tobacco-related diseases every year. A Cochrane Review found that 18,000 people in England may have given up smoking in 2015 thanks to e-cigarettes.

- That settled it then?

PHE's findings were criticised at the time by some experts, saying they were based on poor quality evidence. They also pointed to links between some experts, the tobacco industry and firms that manufacture e-cigarettes.

- So they could be more harmful than has been said?

Some studies have linked vaping with lung damage, heart disease and even cancer and infant mortality. Research by the University of Birmingham published this week said e-cigarette vapour has a similar effect on the lungs and body that is seen in regular cigarette smokers and patients with chronic lung disease. A study by the New York University School of Medicine found smoke from e-cigarettes damages DNA and can increased the risk of cancer and heart disease in mice. Meanwhile researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine in the US have warned any kind of nicotine exposure during pregnancy, whether from smoking, skin patches or vaping, heightens the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Many experts say much more research needs to be done in the area.

- Can they encourage people to smoke conventional cigarettes?

The STC says concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking, including for young non-smokers, "have not materialised". Expert opinion is divided on whether e-cigarettes can act as a young person's gateway to tobacco. In the UK a person must be 18 to buy e-cigarettes or the e-liquids they vaporise. The latest Office for National Statistics data suggests young people are smoking in fewer numbers, with the number of 18 to 24-year-olds who smoke falling eight percentage points since 2011. However a 2017 study of 14 and 15-year-olds from 20 English schools found a "robust association" between vaping and a higher probability of cigarette smoking.