Vaping a 'Small' Fraction of the Risks of Smoking

The latest evidence update on vaping in England, published by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), has again demonstrated that vaping is largely safe and certainly much safer than smoking. The 2022 report is the eighth and final annual update of an initial review from 2015, originally commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) and now by OHID within the Department of Health and Social Care.

The independent report was led by academics at King's College London with a group of international collaborators, and – at over 1400 pages - is the most comprehensive to date. Its main focus was a systematic review of the health risks and health effects of vaping - and broadly it found that vaping is overwhelmingly safer than smoking.

"Alternative nicotine delivery devices such as vaping products can play a vital role in reducing the huge health burden caused by cigarette smoking," the authors said, pointing out that smoking remains: The largest single risk factor for death and years of life lived in ill-health globally; a leading cause of health inequalities in England; and the second most important risk factor for death and disability-adjusted life years globally.

Biomarkers of Toxicant Exposure Significantly Lower

Biomarkers of toxicant exposure - measures of potentially harmful substance levels in the body – were shown to be of significantly lower exposure from vaping compared with smoking, as shown by biomarkers associated with the risk of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Also, toxicant exposure was similar or higher from vaping compared with not using nicotine products and had not significantly increased after short-term second-hand exposure to vaping among people who do not smoke or vape.

The team also looked at multiple studies of biomarkers of potential harm - measurements of biological changes in the body due to exposure to smoking or vaping. Although they said they could draw "only limited conclusions", the better-run studies assessing short- and medium-term risks "found no major causes of concern associated with vaping", they said.

'Switching to Vaping Removes Almost All of the Risks of Smoking'

The researchers concluded that while vaping is not risk-free, particularly for people who have never smoked, "in the short and medium term, vaping poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking".

Prof Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said: "With much more information available now, the review confirms the previous estimates that vaping carries only a small fraction of the health risks of smoking.

"The clearest evidence comes from looking at blood and saliva samples of vapers and smokers. In vapers, the chemicals responsible for smoking-related death and disease are either completely absent, or present at much lower levels, often similar to levels found in non-smokers. "Smokers should be emphatically advised that switching to vaping removes almost all of the risks of smoking."


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