Is Vaping At Least 95% Safer?

A “top paediatrician” has attacked Public Health England’s 2015 “95% safer” figure, blaming it for misleading the public and giving the industry the opportunity to claim vapes are risk-free. It follows some vocal opponents at the British Medical Association also attacking the figure. Leading charity Action on Smoking and Health has spoken out in defence of vapes. So, is vaping at least 95% safer than smoking?

Dr Mike McKean, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told BBC reporters that “claims” of vaping being “at least 95% safer, has been taken advantage of”.
He told Radio 5 Live Breakfast that “unscrupulous businessmen” around the world will “twist” the announcement from Public Health England, “to say that vaping is safe.” He added that this then “opens the door for them to think that anybody can vape.”

McKean went on to say that because of the existence of different coloured packaging and products, and the variety of flavours, “there is absolutely no doubt in my mind, or anybody’s mind who I speak to, that companies are targeting children and young people.”

The problem
Nobody in the vaping industry claims ecigs are risk free, nor do they think anybody can vape. The law in England is that vape products are only available for sale to over-18s and all reputable stores ensure that age verification is carried out.

Professor Ann McNeil
Professor Ann McNeil was a co-author of the 2015 report and the Government’s follow-up evidence updates. She has said that the figure was based on the information available at the time.
The contributors to the annual evidence updates looked at what was allowed in e-liquid and what evidence had been accumulated.
“It was never intended to communicate that they’re safe,” she told the BBC, “it was intended to say there is a big difference in the harms.”

What the vape industry says:
Electronic cigarette manufacturers and retailers rely on the verified independent evidence that has been reviewed every year by the Government since 2015. The latest update produced in 2022 says the evidence shows:

·in the short and medium term, vaping poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking,
·vaping is not risk-free, particularly for people who have never smoked,
·significantly lower exposure to harmful substances from vaping compared with smoking, as shown by biomarkers associated with the risk of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions,
·no significant increase of toxicant biomarkers after short-term secondhand exposure to vaping among people who do not smoke or vape,
·most young people who have never smoked are also not currently vaping (98.3%)

ASH is concerned
Even though some people wrongly claim vaping is being pushed as “safe”, Action on Smoking and Health note: “The misperception that vaping is ‘as or more harmful than smoking’ has steadily increased among adults and young people since 2013. In 2023, 54% of GB 11-17 year olds thought that vaping was ‘as or more harmful than smoking’.”
The opposite to the belief that vaping is far safer than smoking.

Are vapes 95% less harmful than cigarettes?
ASH Deputy Chief Executive Hazel Cheeseman said: “They are certainly much less harmful than cigarettes. Whether they are 95%, 96%, 94%, they are significantly less harmful. And the point of that messaging at the time was very much about trying to use the evidence at the time to communicate to smokers ‘look, if you switch to these products you are doing your health an enormous favour.”
5 Live’s Rachael Burden said that people are saying the evidence to support the 95% figure was “really flimsy”. She claimed that two of the authors of a paper referenced by Public Health England had links to the industry. Burden said the paper should “never have been used by Public Health England”.
Hazel Cheeseman demolished that point.
She explained: “That specific paper had a number of experts on it, but since then the evidence has grown significantly. We’ve had a series of very high-quality evidence reviews, commissioned by Government and conducted by Kings College London, which has really supported the evidence that e-cigarettes are substantially less harmful.

“It is difficult to put a precise figure on it, but if you look at the indications of reduced cancer risk, it is at least 95% less harmful and possibly that figure is an underestimate. So, the evidence has grown since 2015 and we can not wait until we have 30 years of evidence from cohort studies that these products are less harmful – we can see they are less harmful and that they are highly effective at helping people stop smoking.

So, is vaping 95% safer than smoking? Yes, more or less.