Public Health England News and Media

09 Sep 2020

E-cigarettes likely to reduce harm to health for smokers but are not entirely risk-free

E-cigarettes are likely to reduce the harm to health if used as a replacement for conventional cigarettes but still pose a risk to health says the independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT).

The COT was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England to assess the potential risk to health from nicotine and non-nicotine e-cigarettes.

The COT report today finds that switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes is likely to reduce health risks but highlights that some risks will be reduced more than others. For example, the risk of developing lung cancer is likely to be reduced more than the risk of triggering asthma symptoms.

Professor Alan Boobis, Chair of the COT, said:  

“Our assessment on e-cigarettes largely reinforces the scientific consensus to date on their relative safety, that while not without risk they are significantly less harmful than smoking. On the types of effects, our assessment shows that e-cigarette users might experience similar types of effects on their health as can occur from smoking conventional cigarettes, such as an increase in signs of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, particularly in those suffering from these conditions, or local irritation such as a burning sensation in the throat, nose, or eyes. But our study does provide reassurance that the health risks to bystanders from the vapour is generally low.”

The COT also found:

  • E-cigarette users who do not already use tobacco products risk negative effects on their health.
  • The possible health risk of inhaling flavouring ingredients used in e-liquids - substances which are mostly approved for consuming in food but not for inhalation - is as yet unknown, particularly in the long term.
  • Health risk to bystanders from vaping is low in most situations although some effects from high exposure to nicotine in the air may occur such as an increased heart-rate.

The COT assessment concluded that the possible adverse health effects from the long-term use of e-cigarettes is still unknown. As information and science relating to e-cigarettes continues to develop the COT will keep the area under review.

ENDS.

 

Contact Information

Penelope Tomkins
Public Health England
penelope.tomkins@phe.gov.uk

Notes to editors

 

  • For more information or to request an interview with Professor Alan Boobis contact the Public Health England (PHE) press office: PHE-pressoffice@phe.gov.uk.
  • PHE provides secretariat duties for the COT but is independent from it. PHE is acting as a conduit for press enquiries.

  • The COT is a committee of independent experts that provides advice to the Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health and Social Care and other government departments and agencies on matters concerning the toxicity of chemicals in food, consumer products and the environment.

  • Members are required to follow the Code of Conduct for scientific advisory committees. As part of this, they must declare any potential conflicts of interests, and depending on the nature of such conflicts, they may, at the chairman's discretion, be excluded from the discussion and formulation of the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations in relation to relevant agenda items.

  • The COT looked at electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) products collectively abbreviated at E(N)NDS, commonly known as ‘e-cigarettes’. The assessment looked at products produced according to appropriate manufacturing standards and use as recommended. The use of these products is termed ‘vaping’.
  • The outbreak in the US of a respiratory illness related to the use of E(N)NDS products during 2019 and 2020 has been linked to the presence of vitamin E acetate which is banned from UK-regulated nicotine vaping products. This topic is outside the scope of this review.