Using a vape instead of smoking cigarettes leads to a “substantial reduction in exposure” to toxic substances that have been linked to smoking-related diseases, a new study has found.
Researchers carried out the most comprehensive review of the risks of vaping to date and recommended that the UK government prioritise helping people switch from smoking to vaping.
The study, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, found that the risks posed by vaping are a small fraction of the overall health risks of smoking in the short to medium term.
Reviewing a number of aspects of vaping, including the demographic of people who vape and what products they use, researchers found that levels of tobacco-specific toxicants such as nitrosamines and volatile organic compounds were found at “significantly lower levels” in vapers.
Tobacco-related toxicants have been linked to the prevalence of cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease in smokers.
Dr Debbie Robson, senior lecturer in tobacco harm reduction at IoPPN and one of the authors of the report, said: “The levels of exposure to cancer-causing and other toxicants are drastically lower in people who vape compared with those who smoke.
“Helping people switch from smoking to vaping should be considered a priority if the government is to achieve a smoke-free 2030 in England.”
Researchers found that biomarkers of potential harm, which refers to biological changes in the body, were often similar between vapers and people who neither smoke nor vape.
However, there was higher exposure to such biomarkers in some cases when vaping.
This means that, while vaping is less harmful than smoking, it is still likely to sustain some risks, especially for people who have never smoked before.
Vaping is becoming more popular among teenagers and adults, with data from a survey by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Smokefree GB showing increases in the prevalence of vaping among both 11 to 18-year-olds and over-18s since 2020.
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The use of disposable vapes among young people also grew exponentially from 7.7 per cent in 2021 to 52 per cent in 2022, with brands like Elf Bar and Geek Bar proving the most popular.
Professor Ann McNeil, lead author of the report and professor of tobacco addiction, said: “Smoking is uniquely deadly and will kill one in two regular sustained smokers, yet around two-thirds of adult smokers, who would really benefit from switching to vaping, don’t know that vaping is less harmful.
“However, the evidence we reviewed indicates that vaping is very unlikely to be risk-free. So we strongly discourage anyone who has never smoked from taking up vaping or smoking.”
The study comes ahead of Stoptober, a 28-day programme launched by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that aims to help smokers quit the habit.
According to official figures, smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable illness and death in England.
Dr Jeanelle DeGruchy, deputy chief medical officer for England, added: “Every minute, someone is admitted to hospital in England due to smoking. Every eight minutes, someone dies a smoking-related death.
“This important study is the latest in a series which carefully pulls together the science on vaping to help reduce the damage from smoking.”
She urged smokers to switch to vapes, and vapers to quit altogether. “Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health, please give it a go this Stoptober,” she added.