The UK Government Says What the US Won't: Vaping Is Safer Than Cigarettes

A new report from the England's leading health agency wants to stop the vape panic coming from the U.S. in its tracks.
Photo by Toshiro Shimada

Amid rising fears around the world that e-cigarettes and vaping products could be just as harmful as cigarettes, England's leading health agency has released its annual report on vaping, which argues that vaping nicotine is indeed a safer alternative to smoking.

Though not completely safe, "vaping regulated nicotine products has a small fraction of the risks of smoking,” the authors of the report state. The report, which was released Wednesday by Public Health England (PHE), reiterates the harm-reduction argument that public-health officials in England have been making for years. It's a claim that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. has not yet made.


The view of e-cigarettes in the U.K. has been drastically different than that in the U.S., where last year the CDC took months before determining that the likely culprit for an outbreak of vaping-related injuries and death was a compound in illicit THC cartridges. Before that determination, there was widespread speculation about what exactly had caused the vaping-related illnesses and worry over soaring teenage vape use. The mystery brought about something of a panic in America. Cities and states began prohibiting the sale of flavored vaping products, and the federal government instituted a partial ban as well.

That concern seems to have made its way across the Atlantic. According to the government report, the percentage of people who believed vaping is safer than cigarettes declined, from 45 percent in 2014 to 34 percent last year. PHE attributed that trend to imported misinformation from the U.S., which it believes will prevent smokers from switching to vaping.

Clive Bates, a former public-health official in England, said that the report is what public health should be—"strong on empathy but grounded in rigor."

"If we could get this sort of evidence-based good sense from the World Health Organization or the U.S. agencies and policymakers, it would be a game changer," Bates said. "The evidence update is very strong—a proper look at what the evidence actually says and not what anti-vaping activists wish it would say."

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