Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
E-cigarettes could help more than 50,000 smokers quit in England each year © Getty Images

E-cigarettes could help more than 50,000 smokers quit in England each year

Published: 19th October, 2019 at 08:00
Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

However, as e-cigarettes are not risk free the researchers strongly discourage non-smokers from using them.

Replacing regular cigarettes with vapes could help more than 50,000 English smokers kick the habit each year, a study at University College London has found.


This study was based on data collected by the Smoking Toolkit Study, a series of monthly household surveys of people aged 16 and older in England that dates back to 2006 and included around 1,200 individuals each quarter who had smoked with in the past 12 months.

The team found that as use of e-cigarettes in quit attempts began to increase in 2011 onwards, so did the success rate of quitting. And, when the increase in use of e-cigarettes flattened off somewhat around 2015, so did the increase in quit success.

Read more about e-cigarettes:

After making statistical adjustments for factors such as seasonality, underlying trends, population-level policies, spending on tobacco mass media and the affordability of tobacco they estimated that in 2017 around 50,700 to 69,930 smokers had stopped who would otherwise have carried on smoking.

“This study builds on population surveys and clinical trials that find e-cigarettes can help smokers to stop. England seems to have found a sensible balance between regulation and promotion of e-cigarettes,” said lead author Dr Emma Beard, Senior Research Associate at UCL.

“Marketing is tightly controlled so we are seeing very little use of e-cigarettes by never-smokers of any age while millions of smokers are using them to try to stop smoking or to cut down the amount they smoke."


However, as e-cigarettes are not risk free the researchers strongly discourage non-smokers from using them.

Is vaping safe?

Asked by: Stacey Hughes, Buckinghamshire

The most recent research shows that vaping is much less bad for you than smoking. If you already smoke cigarettes, then switching completely to e-cigarettes will significantly improve your health.

But smoking is so bad for you that you could switch to skydiving and still come out ahead! Skydiving every day for 70 years gives a 23 per cent chance of early death, while lifelong smokers have a 50 per cent chance of dying before 70.

The real question is: can you safely take up recreational vaping, even if you don’t already smoke? The evidence for this is much less clear. Nicotine by itself doesn’t cause cancer, and vape juice doesn’t contain any of the 70 known carcinogens that are present in tobacco.

But it does contain other chemicals, such as propylene glycol. When this is heated by the electric element in the e-cigarette, it can create formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic. The different flavour chemicals used in vape juice are all organic compounds, and these can also be altered by the heating element.

Vaping has only been around for a decade, so it is still too soon to be sure of long-term effects. Since e-cigarettes will get you hooked on nicotine just as surely as tobacco does, it doesn’t seem wise to take up a whole new addiction.


Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Science Focus Podcast.


Sponsored content