UK's Public Health Agency Says E-Cigs Are Far Safer Than Tobacco Cigarettes

By McCarton Ackerman 08/21/15

The UK's public health agency has weighed in on the safety of e-cigs. But they've been wrong before.

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Maybe safer, but still douchey. Shutterstock

Not every medical association thinks that e-cigarettes are the next great health danger. England’s public health agency has declared that the devices could “make a significant contribution to the endgame for tobacco” and that vaping is up to 95% safer than smoking nicotine cigarettes.

In their first official statement on the safety of e-cigarettes, Public Health England declared that e-cigarettes even have the potential to be prescribed as a licensed medicine as an alternative to anti-smoking products such as patches. Although the organization acknowledged that the devices are not risk-free, they believe they are far less harmful to health than cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.

“When compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm,” said Kevin Fenton, director of health and well-being at PHE. “The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting.”

However, separate research published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that teens using e-cigarettes are far more likely to move on to tobacco use. Researchers at Harvard Medical School tracked 2,500 ninth graders from 10 public high schools in Los Angeles who had never tried cigarettes, with just under 9% having used an e-cigarette. One year later, those who had used an e-cigarette were four times more likely to have tried smoking tobacco than those who never touched the devices.

"These new e-cigarette devices are really efficient pieces of machinery,” said Adam Leventhal, an associate professor of preventive medicine and psychology at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. “They heat these solutions to create aerosols that are rich with nicotine, so now they're really effective at providing a shot of nicotine to the brain of a user.”

Currently there are no federal rules banning e-cigarette sales to kids under the age of 18. Forty states currently prohibit the sale of the devices to minors, but that means 16 million kids nationwide can still legally purchase them.

PHE has faced criticism in the past, when the Royal College of Psychiatrists accused the agency of underselling the need for funding mental health initiatives.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.