eCigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco

Written by Riccardo Polosa on 23 April 2018 in Thought Leader
Thought Leader

Electronic cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco, writes Riccardo Polosa.

Riccardo Polosa

There has been much scaremongering around the increased uptake of eCigarettes, but the science speaks for itself. This may be a new phenomenon in Europe, but for over 10 years, scientists worldwide have been evaluating electronic cigarettes. 

Looking at the evidence, health professionals and decision makers shaping public health policy must acknowledge the role that eCigarettes play in helping people quit smoking and work to dispel the misinformed news stories that surround them.

As an advocate for tobacco reduction and a leading expert on quitting smoking and smoking-related diseases, I have delved deep into the issue, publishing a study that explored the long-term effects of vaping - a stock argument of most anti-tobacco activists. The results demonstrated that the long-term use of electronic cigarettes is unlikely to raise significant health concerns in relatively young users.


Many are sceptical about their health effects, and if I wasn’t a scientist I may be too. Most evaluations have taken place under extreme experimental conditions, causing misleading results. 

Let’s take making toast as an example. If you heat a slice of bread in a toaster at a standard temperature and for a limited time, the toast will be perfectly golden brown. However, if you heat the bread in a toaster for much longer and at a temperature that is too high, the toast will be burnt and full of carcinogenic elements. 

In other words, the science shows that these electronic devices give smokers what they seek - nicotine - without the harm associated with tobacco combustion, delivering nicotine safely under normal conditions of use.

Last month, Public Health England (PHE) published its latest evidence review on eCigarettes, supporting the use and promotion of these new products. While the growing consensus of the benefits of electronic cigarettes is increasing, some misconceptions about them seem to remain. 

They are incorrectly viewed as equally harmful as conventional cigarettes, regardless of the science showing they are 95 per cent less harmful. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) supports PHE’s recommendation that smokers who have struggled to quit should try vaping as an alternative to smoking.

A tool that helps tackle nicotine addiction and also helps reduce the use of traditional tobacco-based cigarettes is an opportunity that cannot be missed. It is an opportunity for society to address one of Europe’s most serious public health issues by taking advantage of technological innovation allowing much less harmful nicotine consumption. The EU needs to recognise the potential of eCigarettes in reducing the health effects of smoking.

The EU’s silence on this opportunity for public health is unacceptable. The European Parliament should work together with the scientific community to protect European citizens - both smokers and non-smokers alike - by implementing a harm reduction strategy.


About the author

Riccardo Polosa is Director of the Institute for Internal and Emergency Medicine at the University of Catania and Chief Scientific Advisor to LIAF (the Italian Anti-Smoking League)


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