By Sarah Macfadyen, the Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the British Lung Foundation
One of the things we seem to get asked about at the British Lung Foundation more than anything else is e-cigarettes. People have so many questions: Are they safe? Will they make your lung condition worse? What about passive smoking?
The answers to these questions are not always easy to find. That’s why we need the government, public health teams and health professionals to do more to get clear, accurate information out to the people who need it.
The good news is that vaping is much, much safer than smoking tobacco. The best evidence available shows that using an e-cigarette is only around 5% as harmful as smoking tobacco. There has been no major evidence found that passive ‘smoking’ of e-cigarettes is a problem, even for people with lung disease. In the short term, any symptoms from e-cigarettes are likely to be the same as those you might get from a nicotine inhaler or nicotine gum.
That doesn’t mean we can say e-cigarettes are completely safe. There is still more research needed on the long term effects and we need to keep a close eye on whether children and young people are taking up the habit.
But we can be confident that, compared to smoking tobacco, vaping is a considerably better option.
And that matters because too many people are still smoking regularly and aren’t getting the help they need to quit. Smoking is still the single biggest cause of preventable early death.
In the UK we have achieved major reductions in the smoking rate – in England only 15.5% of adults smoke, the lowest figures we have ever seen. But there are huge differences when we look across the population. In the North of England, smoking rates are as high as 17%. One in ten pregnant women still smoke, risking the health of their newborn baby.
The link with inequalities in society is a huge concern. A quarter of people who work in manual jobs smoke. Shockingly, so do 40% of people who have a mental health problem. Huge numbers of our most vulnerable citizens smoke regularly, including homeless people and people in prison.
At the same time, the support that people need to help them quit is disappearing. Public health budgets have been cut across the board and six out of ten local areas have cut funding to their stop smoking services.