Fears prevent vaping to help smokers to quit

According to a new report from the Public Health England (PHE) published this week, more and more people are not using e-cigarettes to quit traditional smoking due to fears about the harm the former cause.

Vape device. Image Credit: Lifestyle discover / Shutterstock
Vape device. Image Credit: Lifestyle discover / Shutterstock

What is the report about?

Vaping or e-cigarettes have been considered to be one of the approaches to help smokers quit. This new report looks at the perceptions of the youngsters and adults on the damage caused by vaping. The report also looked at the harm caused by these e-cigarettes in persons who are pregnant and in those who have mental health conditions.

The report states that vaping has been a constant among adults and youth in this as well as the previous report, and there is a misconception about the harm caused by vaping among smokers who are refraining from using these devices to quit, wrote the experts. There have been several studies and recommendations that state that the regulated and lower doses of e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, and the harm caused by these e-cigarettes is considerably lower.

Myths

There have been some cases of acute lung injury or reactions to e-cigarettes in the United States since 2019. This has given rise to fears about the safety of these devices. According to American experts, a thickening agent added to cannabis containing e-cigarettes called vitamin E acetate was the main culprit behind the acute lung injury caused by the e-cigarettes in the US. This substance is now banned in the UK-regulated nicotine e-cigarettes.

What the report states

The researchers in this paper state that smokers are afraid of using e-cigarette devices for fear of acute lung injury. This is reducing the number of persons who quit smoking and can ultimately cause health risks due to smoking, they wrote. They added that flavored liquids in the vaping devices had been banned to discourage youngsters from taking up smoking. This has also led to a decline in persons taking up vaping devices to aid in their smoking cessation.

The report suggests that smokers need to take the help of vaping devices with low nicotine content along with other measures such as behavioral support to help them to quit.

Other findings

This new report also looked at the use of e-cigarettes among those with mental health conditions and pregnant mothers. According to the Tobacco Control Plan for England, these two populations are the main target for the cessation of smoking.

Results showed that vaping device use among those with mental health conditions could help them quit smoking. They wrote that health care professionals need to support and counsel those with mental health conditions to use aids to quit smoking. The report has also added a section on recommendations regarding vaping devices for NHS mental health trusts. They recommend and provide guidelines about the use, misuse, and prevention of the use of vaping devices among those with mental health problems.

The report also looked at the use of vaping devices among pregnant women and provided suggestions and guidelines regarding smoking during pregnancy.

Recommendations from the PHE

The PHE report recommends that smokers should move from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes to stop smoking eventually, but those who are non-smokers should not take up e-cigarettes. The PHE states that these e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes but are not entirely safe. Their nicotine content and content of harmful chemicals are low but not absent. In addition, the long term impact of these e-cigarettes use is unknown, the experts add.

Some of the recommendations of the report include prevention of sale of e-cigarettes among young persons and proof of age to be provided at the retail outlets for the purchase of these products. Pregnancy and e-cigarette use needs to be explored, and guidelines regarding smoking during pregnancy need to be followed. The team calls for research into vaping device use among those with mental health problems and also about the flavor preferences among adolescents and youth.

Expert speak and future directions

According to Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty, “The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to stop smoking completely. Electronic cigarettes can help some people quit smoking and are a safer alternative. This report is a further welcome contribution to building the evidence around an important area of public policy and highlights the challenge of maximizing the opportunities e-cigarettes present while managing the risks associated with nicotine.”

Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at PHE, said about this report, “It is concerning to see how much the US lung disease outbreak has affected smokers’ views on e-cigarettes here in the UK.” He added, “E-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking, which causes 220 premature deaths a day in England. Our advice remains that for anyone who smokes tobacco, the most important thing is to stop smoking altogether, and e-cigarettes can be an effective way to help smokers do that.” He said that the PHE advice remains consistent saying, “Our new advice on vaping in mental health trusts is an important step forward in empowering healthcare professionals to talk more confidently with their patients about the benefits of using e-cigarettes to stop smoking. This advice is another step towards the overall goal of a smoke-free generation.”

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said, “There are over 6 million smokers in England and smoking is still the leading cause of premature death and disease particularly among the most disadvantaged in our society. Helping more smokers quit is vital if we’re to achieve the government’s vision of a smokefree society by 2030, and vaping has a role to play. I urge smokers to have confidence in our regulatory system and not be put off by alarmist headlines about the risk of vaping, which are not backed up by the evidence.”

George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s Senior Policy Manager, also said, “E-cigarettes are a relatively new product, they aren’t risk-free, and we don’t yet know their long-term impact. So we strongly discourage non-smokers from using them. But research so far shows that vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco and can help people to stop smoking.”

Lead author of this report, Professor Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London, in a statement, said, “It is currently very hard for smokers to make sense of the many contradictory reports on the impacts of vaping and smoking. In our review, we present evidence that suggests in England, vaping has not undermined declines in adult smoking. For youth, vaping is mainly concentrated in those who were already dabbling in cigarette smoking. However, we need to remain vigilant and ensure that vaping products, alongside regular cigarettes, are not easily accessible to young people.” She added, “PHE has commissioned a full review of the evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes, which will be published in 2022. King’s College London will work with a number of different researchers from the UK and US (including some who contributed to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s e-cigarette report in 2018) to conduct this review.”

Sources:
Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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