LEADING health bodies in Scotland have agreed for the first time that using electronic cigarettes is "definitely less harmful" than smoking tobacco.

However, the advice issued by experts including public health and cancer research professionals, published today [thu], is that using e-cigarettes while continuing to smoke regular cigarettes and tobacco products does not provide health benefits.

Anyone using both "should be strongly encouraged to stop smoking tobacco as soon as they can".

They also warn that the use of e-cigarettes must be monitored to avoid children or non-smokers using them.

The consensus document states: "There is now agreement based on the current evidence that vaping e-cigarettes is definitely less harmful than smoking tobacco. Although most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive, vaping carries less risk than smoking tobacco. Thus, it would be a good thing if smokers used them instead of tobacco."

NHS Health Scotland led the consensus with over 20 partners in the NHS, Scottish Government, third sector and academia. Its aim is to clarify any confusion around the harms and benefits of using e-cigarettes.

The statement stresses that e-cigarettes are useful "only as a potential route towards stopping smoking", and that there remains "a lot we do not know" about the health impact of vaping.

It adds: "They are not risk free, but based on current evidence, they have a much lower risk than tobacco."

A report published by the Royal College of Physicians found that the risk to health from vaping was unlikely to exceed 5 per cent of the harm from smoking tobacco. Scotland is also leading the world’s first study examining the safety of e-cigarettes for pregnant woman and their unborn babies.

However, the devices are banned in some countries and market research earlier this year showed a decline in the proportion of smokers using e-cigarettes following a number of recent medical studies which suggested that "vaping" could be as bad for the heart as smoking cigarettes.


Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Public Health Science at NHS Health Scotland rejected this.

He said: “Recent research has shown an emerging perception among the general public that e-cigarettes are just as harmful to health as tobacco is. This is a not the case – we know from current evidence that vaping carries less risk than smoking tobacco. So it would be a good thing if smokers used e-cigarettes instead of smoking tobacco.

“To be absolutely clear, e-cigarettes are useful for public health and health service purposes only as a potential route towards stopping smoking completely. Access to e-cigarettes needs to be controlled carefully; they are not products for children or non-smokers.”

Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy at Stirling University and Cancer Research UK's BUPA chair in Behavioural Research for Cancer Prevention, welcomed the statement.

She said: “It is good to see NHS Health Scotland and partners making it clear that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco.

“We also need to get the point across to people that, based on what we know to date, that dual use (using e-cigarettes without stopping smoking) is still bad for your health. So we would strongly encourage anyone who is using both to stop smoking tobacco as soon as they can.”

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland added: “Although we still don't know the long-term health effects of vaping, we can be confident that any smoker switching entirely to e-cigarettes will be taking in far fewer cancer-causing chemicals. Tobacco is lethal and I'd encourage anyone who smokes to find a way of quitting that works for them, which could include using e-cigarettes, and to make use of the free NHS stop-smoking support available to help.”