Flyers being distributed in school campuses by the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Smoking Cessation Clinic are filled with half-truths and inaccurate information about “vapes” or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Without citing any references, the flyers claim that studies have failed to “show that using vapes does not result to higher rates of quitting or reducing the use of tobacco.” This unsubstantiated claim is debunked by the findings of two independent and respected groups of public health experts.1,2
E-cigarettes can help smokers quit
A report released in April 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians, the leading professional membership body for physicians in the UK and internationally, concluded that e-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to UK public health and smokers can therefore be reassured and encouraged to use them. Other key findings of the 200-page report entitled “Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction” are:
E-cigarettes appear to be effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking.
Available evidence to date indicates that e-cigarettes are being used almost exclusively as safer alternatives to smoked tobacco, by confirmed smokers who are trying to reduce harm to themselves or others from smoking, or to quit smoking completely.
Among smokers, e-cigarette use is likely to lead to quit attempts that would not otherwise have happened, and in a proportion of these to successful cessation. In this way, e-cigarettes can act as a gateway from smoking.
An August 2015 expert independent evidence review by Public Health England, an operationally autonomous executive agency of the UK Department of Health, concluded that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people in the UK. It found that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in Great Britain are current or ex-smokers, most of whom are using the devices to help them quit smoking or to prevent them going back to cigarettes. It also provides reassurance that very few adults and young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette users (less than 1% in each group).
“The evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking and in my view smokers should try vaping and vapers should stop smoking entirely,” said Professor Ann McNeill, King’s College London and independent author of the Public Health England review.
Consumer groups call for evidence-based information campaigns
In light of the distribution of the misleading PGH flyers in school campuses, consumer groups are calling for more evidence-based information campaigns on e-cigarettes.
“E-cigarettes are now part of the comprehensive tobacco control program of several countries where they are viewed as a viable smoking cessation tool for smokers who want to quit. We hope that the PGH considers the current available evidence on e-cigarettes and not give in to the propaganda and fear mongering, which will certainly not benefit smokers who want to kick the habit,” said Tom Pinlac, President, The Vapers Philippines.
“Information campaigns being implemented by the PGH and Department of Health should be evidence-based,” said Joey Dulay, President, Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association, Inc. “Smokers who find it hard to quit, are looking for a safer alternative, and have found one in vaping should be given access to accurate information from government agencies. These agencies should protect smokers who are trying to quit and provide them with clear, accurate messages on e-cigarettes rather than confusing them with misleading information. Let us protect minors and non-smokers from the hazards of smoking while providing smokers with products and information that can help them reduce the harm caused by smoking and eventually quit smoking.”
E-cigarettes 95% less harmful than smoking
The PGH flyers also claim that vape liquids are not safe because these contain harmful chemicals and metals. While not discounting the possibility of some harm from long-term e-cigarette use due to inhalation of ingredients other than nicotine, both the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England concluded that e-cigarettes are around 95 percent less harmful than smoking. According to the Royal Colleges of Physicians, the hazard to health arising from long-term vapor inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.
“E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. Local stop smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely,” said Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England.
The Royal College of Physicians pointed out the need for regulation to reduce direct and indirect adverse effects of e-cigarette use, but this regulation should not be allowed to significantly inhibit the development and use of harm-reduction products by smokers. In the interests of public health, the expert group underscored the importance of promoting the use of e-cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapies and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking in the UK.