Public Health England support vaping again-Unequivocal support for vaping as a cessation aid

The latest e-cigarette report by Public Health England (PHE), “Vaping in England: evidence update February 2021”, was released on Tuesday 26th February. It is overwhelmingly positive about vaping, and this year shows even stronger evidence to support e-cigarettes’ effectiveness as a smoking cessation aid than reports from previous years. 

PHE has published a similar report almost every year since 2015, in which they explore a range of topics regarding vaping in England. These have included the safety of vaping, the effectiveness of vaping in helping people to quit, current regulation, vaping and young people, and public perceptions of vaping. Public Health England collates a range of research, analyzes data, and forms objective conclusions to provide a detailed overview of the progress of vaping in England, allowing smokers and policy makers to make informed decisions regarding e-cigarettes. 

This year’s publication is arguably the most positive commendation of e-cigarettes published by any government agency to date Worldwide. It is particularly positive with regard to vaping’s effectiveness as a cessation aid. Despite this, every single mainstream media outlet in the UK has failed to report on this news at the time of writing of this article. 

E-cigarettes more effective than any other smoking cessation aid say Public Health England

The key positive findings from the report related to vaping as a cessation aid, and how successful e-cigarettes are at helping people quit smoking. Some of the research featured in the report also compared quit attempts and success rates when using an e-cigarette with the success rate when using other Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs) like patches and gum.

The report stated that e-cigarettes are “positively associated with quitting smoking successfully”. The Smoking toolkit Study (STS) research also shows that e-cigarettes were the most popular quitting aid in 2020, with 27.2% of quitters using an e-cigarette in their attempts. English Stop Smoking services data also showed that vaping products are a very effective aid when quitting smoking.

“Quit rates involving a vaping product were higher than any other method in every region in England. These ranged from 49% in the South West to 78% in Yorkshire and the Humber.”

Annual Public Health England e-cigarettes reports have been positive in this area for a number of years. Even more encouragingly, this year’s report provides ‘stronger evidence’ than previous years’ that nicotine vaping products are effective for smoking cessation and reduction. The publication therefore recommends that “e-cigarettes, combined with stop smoking support should be available to all people who want to quit smoking”. 

Despite this positive coverage, “only 11% of local authority stop smoking services offered vaping products to some or all people making a quit attempt.” According to an ASH survey of tobacco control leads. We hope the evidence included in the PHE report therefore leads to more stop smoking services acknowledging e-cigarettes and using them to help smokers in their quit attempts. The ongoing misperceptions which surround vaping cannot be helping with this; a topic which is also covered in the report.

Vaping misperceptions could be having detrimental effect on quit rates

Unfortunately, vaping is subject to a raft of misinformation from news outlets and parties with misplaced agendas. This could be in the form of biased research or sensationalist headlines but either way, the outcome is the same. The result is an increase in incorrect perceptions regarding the relative risk of vaping. 

More and more people, many of whom are smokers, believe vaping to be as harmful as or more harmful than smoking. This is of course not the case and vaping has been shown to be far safer than smoking on numerous occasions, including the milestone statement from PHE in 2015 which stated “Vaping is around 95% safer than smoking”. 

According to the latest PHE report, in 2020 38% of smokers believed that vaping was just as harmful as smoking. More concerning is that 14.8% of smokers thought that vaping was more harmful than smoking, and less than a third (29.3%) of smokers surveyed could correctly identify vaping as being less harmful than smoking. The remainder of respondents “didn’t know” whether vaping was more or less harmful. 

These figures are incredibly frustrating, particularly given the aforementioned evidence that e-cigarettes are successful in helping people quit smoking. This brings us back to the poignant issue of the lack of mainstream media relating to this overwhelmingly positive report. It’s particularly annoying because within hours of any research paper with negative implications towards vaping being published, newspapers are plastered with overblown headlines suggesting smokers should be cautious about vaping. There is in fact never a time when it is better to smoke than it is to vape a product that is responsibly produced. 

Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at PHE, said: 

“Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of premature death and disease – killing almost 75,000 people in England in 2019. The best thing that a smoker can do is to stop smoking completely and the evidence shows that vaping is one of the most effective quit aids available, helping around 50,000 smokers quit a year.”

“Thousands more could have quit except for unfounded safety fears about e-cigarettes. The evidence has been clear for some time that, while not risk-free vaping is far less harmful than smoking.”

The report is overwhelmingly positive about vaping, and we believe the confident messages it ought to elicit should be seen by as many smokers as possible. This could help them make properly informed choices about e-cigarettes.

Failure to correct negative views of smokers about vaping could result in a huge missed opportunity for public health. If the government is to reach its goal of creating a smokefree nation by 2030, this key area must be addressed.