U.K. Report Advocates Substituting E-Cigarettes for Tobacco

smoking_wsj_pic2A report from the U.K.’s Royal College of Physicians, released early Thursday morning in the U.K., rejects several safety arguments marshaled against e-cigarettes in recent years. PHOTO: REUTERS

This article was published in Wall Street Journal on Apr’ 28, 2016.


Updated April 28, 2016 12:32 a.m. ET

Substituting electronic cigarettes for tobacco is beneficial to public health and should be encouraged for current smokers, according to a report from the U.K.’s Royal College of Physicians.

The report, released early Thursday morning in the U.K., rejects several safety arguments marshaled against e-cigarettes in recent years. It argues that smoking tobacco is so deadly that any small potential risk from long-term e-cigarette use is outweighed by their lifesaving effects.

Among the report’s conclusions are that e-cigarettes aren’t a gateway to smoking tobacco for current nonsmokers and that they likely lead tobacco smokers to try to quit regular cigarettes when they otherwise wouldn’t.

“This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the U.K.,” said John Britton, director of the U.K. Center for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, who chaired the panel responsible for the report.

The report comes at a critical time for the e-cigarette industry, whose sales have fallen sharply in recent months. Confusion over the safety and health effects of the devices has contributed to a 6.2% decline in sales in the U.S. for the year ended March 26, according to Nielsen data cited by Wells Fargo.

E-cigarette advocates are hoping the report by the Royal College of Physicians is as influential as the health body’s 1962 report on cigarettes. It was among the first to identify the health harms of smoking and preceded the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health by two years.

“This is a game changer,” said David Sweanor, a tobacco-control expert and adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa. He said confusion over the health consequences of e-cigarettes has “scared away a lot of investment and scared away a lot of consumers. We now have a very authoritative overview of the actual evidence [on e-cigarettes] that will inform policy.”

Most researchers have agreed for years that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes because they don’t combust and release carcinogens like traditional smokes, but the long-term effects of using the devices remain largely unknown.

The Royal College of Physicians report comes as the U.S. government continues to consider how it will regulate e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration in 2014 proposed a rule that would give it oversight of e-cigarettes and require federal approval for nearly all e-cig devices and liquid-nicotine products. The rule is still being reviewed and hasn’t been finalized.

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