E-Cigs: The Lesser of Two Evils?

E-cigarettes may be less harmful to health than tobacco, may help smokers quit

If you weren't already considering switching from traditional cigarettes to the electronic version, you may want to start.

A major independent review from Public Health England (PHE) found that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may be significantly less harmful to health than traditional tobacco cigarettes, and may also have the potential to help smokers kick the habit.

PHE is the executive agency of the Department of Health in the UK.

"There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are undermining England’s falling smoking rates," said study co-leader Ann McNeill, PhD, a professor of tobacco addiction at King's College London, in a press release. "Instead the evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking and in my view smokers should try vaping, and vapers should stop smoking entirely."

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine solution that the user inhales. Nicotine is the primary addictive chemical in tobacco.

Out of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigs in the UK, most were found to be current or ex-smokers. These users also typically use the devices to stop smoking entirely or to avoid traditional cigarettes.

No evidence was found that e-cigs encourage children to smoke, and monthly e-cig use among UK youth who had never smoked cigarettes was 0.3 percent or less.

Only about 2 percent of teens were found to use e-cigs monthly, and 0.5 percent to use them weekly.

In the US, however, e-cig use has tripled among middle and high school students from 2013 to 2014, according to the CDC.

According to Dr. McNeill and team, while e-cigs are not without health risks, they are not as unhealthy as smoking tobacco cigarettes.

In fact, PHE estimated that e-cigs are around 95 percent less harmful than smoking.

"E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm," said Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE Kevin Fenton, FFPH, in the release. "The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting. Smoking remains England’s number one killer and the best thing a smoker can do is to quit completely, now and forever."

This review was released Aug. 19 by Public Health England.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.