Electronic cigarettes can play a significant role in helping people to give up smoking, though they are not recommended for non-smokers, according to research published on Thursday morning.
A peer-reviewed study in the scientific journal Addiction found up to 70,000 smokers use e-cigarettes to stop smoking in England each year.
Led by University College London (UCL) researchers and funded by Cancer Research UK, the study found that as the use of e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting went up from 2011 onwards the quitting success rate also increased.
However, when the increase in use of e-cigarettes levelled off in 2015, so did the increase in quit success. A study of the data led the team to estimate that in 2017 between 50,700 and 69,930 smokers had stopped who would otherwise have carried on smoking.
"This study builds on population surveys and clinical trials that find e-cigarettes can help smokers to stop," said the lead author and senior research associate at UCL Dr Emma Beard.
She said England had “found a sensible balance between regulation and promotion of e-cigarettes” which saw marketing tightly controlled.
“We are seeing very little use of e-cigarettes by never-smokers of any age while millions of smokers are using them to try to stop smoking or to cut down the amount they smoke,” she said.
Cancer Research UK's senior policy manager George Butterworth pointed out that e-cigarettes are a relatively new product and "aren't risk free and we don't yet know their long-term impact".
“We strongly discourage non-smokers from using them,” he said.
However he said research so far “shows that vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco and can help people to stop smoking, so it’s good that over 50,000 people managed to give up in 2017”.
A vaporiser or electronic cigarette is used to inhale vapour made from liquid, concentrate or dry herb and while the practice is widely viewed as less harmful than smoking, it is not without its critics.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said early this month that large companies – which have bought or built up vaping companies – are diversifying "to get around the war on tobacco" and under legislation waiting to get the green light the sale of e-cigarettes to children will be outlawed.
Last week Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said greater urgency was needed to deal with the growing problem of vaping because of the numbers of young people getting hooked on e-cigarettes.
The former health minister who introduced the smoking ban in 2004, described the tobacco industry as one of the most “evil” sectors that had “consigned millions to their death”.
He highlighted research from the US Centres for Disease Control about the and injuries from vaping. All told 19 deaths and more than 1,000 lung injuries have been attributed to vaping in the US in recent times. .
The Fianna Fáil leader said in the Dáil the tobacco industry was using the same strategy in vaping that it used with cigarettes by getting young people hooked with colourful, flavoured products and he could not understand how the industry was allowed to develop in the first place.