Back in 2015, the UK government announced a landmark report that made waves throughout vaping community. Commissioned by Public Health England, the report “E-Cigarettes: An Evidence Update” studied the impact of vaping on health and made recommendations regarding regulations and health advice. The report made several conclusions but the most stark and attention grabbing was that e-cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than tobacco and that they can help smokers quit.
Because vaping is still fairly young, more scientific research still needed to be done after this. The PHE followed up with a new report called “E-Cigarettes and Heated Tobacco Products: Evidence Review” this 2018 that delves deeper into the medical evidence about vaping. Written by top independent experts, the report maintains the same premise, with a strong thrust towards promoting vaping as a way to transition from smoking.
While the report seems very technical at first glance, it’s concisely written and easy to read, and anyone interested in vaping—from manufacturers to individual vaping enthusiasts—is encouraged to read about it or at least be aware of its contents. If you’re a vaper or are considering trying it out, you’ll learn a lot from the report, which also tackles the current state of vaping in the UK.
You can find the report here, but we’ve summed up the highlights below:
Vaping in the UK
The UK is one of the most vape-friendly countries in the world. Since vaping was introduced to the UK in the late 2000s, it has enjoyed rapid growth, eventually finding supporters in at least 6% or 3 million of the population.
Despite the number of UK-based online stores, vapers still mainly get their equipment from specialist brick-and-mortar stores, and the Independent British Vape Trade Association estimates that there are already more than 2000 of these in the country. Models with refillable tanks are the most popular device type, while fruit, tobacco, and menthol or mint are the top flavours for e-liquids. Many e-cigarette users have vaped daily over the past six months.
Vaping vs. Smoking
Interestingly, the most common reason for using e-cigarettes is to stop smoking. In England alone, smoking causes nearly 80,000 deaths every year, killing one in two smokers. From negatively affecting almost every organ in the body to increasing cancer risk, smoking is a major health concern, and because of its high addictiveness, many smokers find quitting extremely difficult.
Vaping may seem similar to smoking, but it is significantly less harmful—by at least 95%, according to the PHE report. The risks for cancer, respiratory illnesses, and cardiac illnesses are much lower, and most people who try e-cigarettes don’t become addicted.
Contrary to widely held misconceptions, nicotine isn’t what causes serious damage to health with smoking. Rather, it’s the lethal carcinogens within tobacco smoke itself doing the damage, with around 7,000 dangerous constituents such as aldehydes. These constituents are either not produced at all by vaping or are found in such low concentrations as to not be any serious risk. In addition, research findings so far indicate no health risks for passersby inhaling vapour in passive vaping.
Because of its health advantage over smoking, vaping has emerged as a solution for smokers seeking to quit. From its inception, vaping was conceived as a way to help people quit smoking, and the report confirms vaping’s effectiveness as a smoking intervention. Smokers who vape become more motivated to stop smoking, perhaps because vaping bears some resemblance to smoking and makes for a gentler transition. E-cigarettes and vape mods are even estimated to contribute to at least 20,000 successful new quits or more, and in the first half of 2017—the latest surveyed by the report–England had its highest quit rates ever, in line with the rise of e-cigarettes. Combining vaping with support received from stop smoking services have proved to be as effective at getting smokers to stop as licensed medicines.
A huge number of experts and professional bodies in the UK are already championing vaping for this purpose, and the PHE report takes this stance, suggesting concrete steps for educating the public about vaping and making vaping more accessible. Over half of smokers wrongly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking, which emphasises the need for spreading awareness about vaping. Funding should continue to be given to smoking cessation clinics, and e-cigarettes should be affordable and easy to find, appearing even in hospital shops.
Aside from the health impact of vaping, the report also discusses rules and regulations for the vaping industry.
One definite change since the last report was released in 2018 is the Revised European Union Tobacco Products Directive (EUTPD). First adopted in 2014 but then translated to UK law in 2015, it covers product registration, safety and quality standards, and advertising, among others. The revisions vary from country to country, but for the UK, the laws have become stricter.
Those who manufacture, import, or rebrand a vaping product as their own have to follow the notification process that’s managed by the Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). This involves submitting information about the product at least six months before its release into the market and updating accordingly when products are modified. Products may be withdrawn if the MHRA discovers that they’re harmful for people’s health. Information for all products is uploaded online for transparency, and you can check it out here.
Alternatively, producers can apply for a medical license instead, where they’d have to comply with the MHRA’s standards. Medically licensed products can be prescribed by healthcare professionals to smokers.
Manufacturing, Safety, and Advertising
The EU TPD specifies that tanks should be at 2 mL max, e-liquids must have a volume of 10 mL at most, and the highest nicotine strength allowed is 20%. However, only e-liquids with nicotine fall under the TPD, so you can bypass the volume rule with short-fill e-liquids, which have 0 mg nicotine and can reach beyond 100 mL.
Other rules include ensuring protection against leakage, featuring a prominent health warning in the packaging, and not using additives like colourings and caffeine. On the advertising side, only specific channels are allowed. You can expect vaping ads to appear in magazines, commercial emails, and social media, among others, but leaflets, outdoor ads, and posters on public transport are banned.
Tobacco Heated Products
Also called heat-not-burn, these products are a newer addition to the market. In 2017, tobacco heated products were already available in several countries through popular brands such as IQOS and glo. Although Japan, which doesn’t allow e-cigarettes, had the most diverse selection, these were still rare in the UK.
Tobacco heated products do reduce the urge to smoke and have lower nicotine levels, but smokers say that they’re not as satisfying as cigarettes. There’s also evidence that these are more unhealthy than e-cigarettes, and more research would have to be done regarding its effects.
Backed by research from Public Health England, as well as a host of other respected bodies, vaping has garnered tremendous support from medical professionals and policy-makers in the UK. Regulations may be getting stricter, but these pave the path for more standardised ways of manufacturing and selling, so that vapers can benefit from safer and more high-quality products.
Vaping is generally thriving in the UK, and if you’re a smoker looking to stop, then there’s good reason to try vaping (and visit a stop smoking service while you’re at it). More than an enjoyable hobby, vaping might just be one of the most accessible ways to address a major public health concern, helping millions of smokers quit in the process and saving countless lives cut short by smoking related diseases.