How do e-cigarettes work?
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that do not contain tobacco but provide nicotine. They work by heating a liquid cartridge containing nicotine, flavours and other chemicals into a vapour. Because e-cigarettes heat a liquid instead of tobacco, what is released is considered smokeless.
What did the study find?
People who switch from smoking tobacco to e-cigarettes or those who are under Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), such as chewing nicotine gum or using patches for at least six months, can reduce the intake of toxic chemicals in their body.
"Our study adds to existing evidence showing that e-cigarettes and Nicotine Replacement Therapy are far safer than smoking, and suggests that there is a very low risk associated with their long-term use," said Dr Lion Shahab, a specialist in epidemiology and public health at University College London.
The World Health Organisation said that tobacco usage is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world. (Reuters)
Is the study suggesting smokers switch to e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes, have grown into an $8 billion-a-year market, according to Euromonitor International – more than three times that of nicotine replacement products. They are, however, still dwarfed by a tobacco market estimated by Euromonitor to be worth around $700 billion.
Many health experts think e-cigarettes, or vapes, which do not contain tobacco, are a lower-risk alternative to smoking and potentially a major public health tool.
"Switching to e-cigarettes can significantly reduce harm to smokers, with greatly reduced exposure to carcinogens and toxins," said Kevin Fenton, National Director of Public Health and Wellbeing England, an agency of the United Kingdom's health department.
"The findings also make clear that the benefit is only realised if people stop smoking completely and make a total switch," he said.
The United States, however, is more cautious about the safety of e-cigarettes. In December, the Surgeon General urged lawmakers to impose price and tax policies to discourage their use.
Will e-cigarattes help smokers smoke less?
The public health community is divided on the benefits of e-cigarettes but the researchers of the latest study, funded by the Cancer Research UK, stand by their finding.
“Our results also suggest that while e-cigarettes are not only safer, the amount of nicotine they provide is not noticeably different to conventional cigarettes. This can help people to stop smoking altogether by dealing with their cravings in a safer way,” Shahab, who headed the research said.
It suggested that countries which have not banned e-cigarettes should consider introducing restrictions which include forbidding the sale of the devices to young people.