‘More than 40% of smokers think vaping is more harmful than cigarettes’

A poll by health charity Ash found that more than four in 10 smokers think vaping is more harmful than cigarettes (Anthony Devlni/PA)
A poll by health charity Ash found that more than four in 10 smokers think vaping is more harmful than cigarettes (Anthony Devlni/PA)

More than four in 10 smokers in Britain believe vaping is as dangerous or more dangerous than cigarettes, a new poll has suggested.

Respiratory doctors and anti-smoking campaigners said more needs to be done to help smokers understand that vaping is less risky.

Public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) estimates that 9.1%, or 4.7 million adults, in Britain vape. Of those, 2.7 million are ex-smokers, 1.7 million are current smokers and 320,000 have never smoked.

In a survey of 12,271 adults carried out for Ash by YouGov, 43% thought vaping was as dangerous or more dangerous than smoking cigarettes.

Among smokers who had never vaped, 43% said they believed it is a more harmful habit, up from 27% in 2019.

Among smokers who had used e-cigarettes in the past but stopped, 44% believed it is more dangerous than smoking, up from 25%.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of Ash, said: “The Government has backed a vaping strategy as its path to reduce rates of smoking, but this approach will be undermined if smokers don’t try vapes due to safety fears, or stop vaping too soon and revert to smoking.

“The Government must act quickly to improve public understanding that vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking.”

Dr Sarah Jackson, principal research fellow in the University College London Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, described the survey’s findings as “concerning, but not surprising” and said “there is an ongoing disconnect” on how evidence on the relative harms of vaping compared with smoking are communicated to the public.

Professor Ann McNeill, of King’s College London, said: “Anxiety over youth vaping is obscuring the fact that switching from smoking to vaping will be much better for an individual’s health.

“It is wrong to say we have no idea what the future risks from vaping will be. On the contrary, levels of exposure to cancer-causing and other toxicants are drastically lower in people who vape compared with those who smoke, which indicates that any risks to health are likely to be a fraction of those posed by smoking.”

She added that more regulation is needed over children and vaping “but so too is work to ensure many more adults stop smoking”.

Vaping survey
Calls have been made to regulate the marketing and packaging of vapes to put children off using them (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

There have been several calls in recent months to tighten regulations around how e-cigarettes are packaged and marketed to deter children and young people from using them.

In July, MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee said the Government should consider plain packaging for vapes in line with other tobacco products to “tackle an alarming trend” in the number of children taking up the habit.

In June, NHS figures revealed that 40 children and young people were admitted to hospital in England last year for “vaping-related disorders”, up from 11 two years earlier.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) also warned that e-cigarettes “are not a risk-free product and can be just as addictive, if not more so, than traditional cigarettes”.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are doing more than ever before to support smokers to quit – helping us achieve our bold ambition to be Smokefree by 2030.

“One million smokers will be encouraged to ‘swap to stop’ – swapping cigarettes for vapes under a new national scheme launched by this Government – the first of its kind in the world.

“However, while vaping is a preferable alternative to smoking for adults, we are concerned about the rise in youth vaping. That is why we launched a call for evidence to identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vaping products – and explore where the Government can go further.”