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E-cigarettes produce a vapour typically containing nicotine, which users inhale. The popularity of e-cigarettes as an alternative source of nicotine has increased rapidly in recent years, and there are almost 3m users in the UK. The market has been led by small independent companies, but all the major tobacco companies now have products.

Since POST’s last briefing on e-cigarettes, more research has taken place on the possible health risks, whether they act a gateway to smoking amongst children and non-smokers, and their potential as a tool to help people to stop or reduce their smoking.

The key points in this briefing:

  • A growing body of evidence shows that e-cigarettes are much less harmful than tobacco.
  • There is evidence showing that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit tobacco.
  • Current evidence suggests that e-cigarettes do not encourage tobacco smoking among non-smokers or children.
  • Public perceptions of harm are changing: 25% of the UK public think that e-cigarettes present a risk of harm similar to that of tobacco smoking, compared with 7% in 2013.

You can read more about the research on all of these points in the briefing. For further reading, more detailed information can be found in two recent evidence reviews published by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians.

An EU Directive which regulates e-cigarettes as ‘tobacco-related products’ came into force in the UK in May 2016. These regulations restrict a product’s nicotine concentration and volume, composition, and promotion. If a company wishes to make health claims about their product’s ability to help someone to stop smoking, then they must apply to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency for a medicines license. This would allow producers to make health claims such as effectiveness at helping people stop smoking, if they can substantiate these claims with research from well-designed trials.


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