Government are missing the chance to tackle a major cause of death

E-cigarettes, estimated as 95% less harmful than cigarettes, are overlooked as a stop smoking 
tool by the NHS

"E-cigarettes present an opportunity to significantly accelerate already declining smoking rates, and thereby tackle one of the largest causes of death in the UK today."

E-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than conventional cigarettes, by around 95%, because they don't produce tar, carbon monoxide and smoke, the most harmful ingredients in conventional cigarettes.

It has also proven challenging to measure the risks from 'second-hand' e-cigarette vapour because it is negligible and substantially less than that of conventional cigarettes.

However, there are uncertainties, nevertheless, especially about any long-term health effects, because the products have not yet had a history of long use.

In October 2017, 11 MPs from the Science and Technology Committee from different political parties launched an inquiry into E-cigarettes. 

They wanted to understand where the gaps were in the evidence base, the impact of the regulations, and the implications of this growing industry on NHS costs and the UK's public finances.

The committee's report attempts to discover why e-cigarettes are not being promoted fully as a tool to help people quit smoking. 

The Committee wants the Government to consider allowing more freedom to advertise e-cigarettes as the relatively less harmful option, and provide financial incentives, in the form of lower levels of taxation, for smokers to swap from cigarettes to less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes.

Tens of thousands are using e-cigarettes to successfully quit 
smoking each year

Many businesses, public transport providers and other public places do not allow e-cigarettes, in the same way that they prohibit conventional smoking. 

But, there is no public health (or indeed fire safety) rationale for treating use of the two products the same. 

There is now a need for a wider debate on how e-cigarettes are to be dealt with in our public places, to help arrive at a solution which starts from the evidence rather than misconceptions about their health impacts.

Concerns about the risk of e-cigarettes potentially providing a 'gateway' into conventional smoking, or that the variety and type of flavours could attract young non-smokers in significant numbers, have not materialised.

People with mental health issues smoke significantly more than the rest of the population, and could therefore benefit significantly by using e-cigarettes to stop smoking. 

By encouraging patients in mental health units who are smokers to switch to e-cigarettes as a way out of their cigarette addiction, they could continue to engage in treatment sessions within the facilities, without the interruption of smoking breaks.

Some NHS mental health units are allowing unrestricted use of e-cigarettes. But a third of the 50 English NHS trusts who responded to the Committee's survey ban them. 

Three-quarters of NHS trusts were mistakenly concerned about 'second-hand’ e-cigarette vapour, despite the negligible health risk. 

NHS England should set a policy of mental health facilities allowing e-cigarette use by patients unless trusts can demonstrate evidence-based reasons for not doing so.

The report identifies a need for more research in this area

To help fill remaining gaps in the evidence on the relative risks of e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products, the Government should maintain its planned annual 'evidence review' on e-cigarettes, and extend it to also cover ‘heat-not-burn’ products. 

The Government should support a long-term research programme to be overseen by Public Health England and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment. 

The Government should report each year on the state of research in its Tobacco Control Plan, and establish an online hub for making the detailed evidence readily available to the public and to health professionals.

'E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this.'

Norman Lamb, Chair

The Government has two months to respond to our report. 

To read more depth and detail about our recommendations, read our report on  E-cigarettes or find out more on our website.

If you're interested in the work of our committee, find out more about our other inquiries.