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The annual PHE e-cigarette review is out

Public Health England have released their sixth annual review of e-cigarettes this week as part of the government’s tobacco control plan. The review accumulates the available data to look at the vaping prevalence among different groups of people, including young people, pregnant women, and those with mental health conditions.

What is the report?

The report is produced by Public Health England, written by five authors with backgrounds at Kings College London, University of Edinburgh, and Cancer Research UK. The report underwent international peer review before publication and it is made clear from the outset that the authors are all leading UK tobacco control researchers who have never had links to any tobacco or vaping product manufacturers.

Although smoking rates have been steadily decreasing and are now at their lowest ever, smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable death and illness in the UK. As research consistently finds alternative delivery systems like e-cigarettes to be substantially less harmful than smoking, they could be a crucial tool in lessening the burden that smoking places on the NHS. As a result, Public Health England have been asked to conduct annual reviews on vaping prevalence as part of the tobacco control plan.

Vaping amongst young people

The review has found that regular vaping among young people remains low, with only 5% of 11-18 year olds using an e-cigarette at least once a week. The prevalence increases with age, being less than 1% of 11 year olds compared with 11% of 15 years olds. It is also reported that even among young people, regular vaping is mainly concentrated to those who have previously smoked, and very few never smokers regularly use an e-cigarette.

These numbers have remained consistently low for the last few years, as have the rates of underage smoking which has remained steady at 5% since 2014, down by over have from 11% in 2009. It is also noted that e-cigarette use among young people in the UK is much lower than those in Canada and the US, where youth vaping has proved to be a big problem.

Vaping among adults

Although the review reports that the results vary between surveys, they do remain stable. Less than 1% of people who have never smoked reported regular e-cigarette use, meaning the overwhelming majority are either current or former smokers, showing that vaping has been widely adopted for its intended use, as a smoking cessation tool.

The data suggests that between 5-7% of adults in the UK currently use an e-cigarette, but it is identified that the prevalence is higher in those in more disadvantaged socio-economic groups, which has also always been the case with smoking rates. It is unsurprising then that one of the main reported reasons for making the switch from smoking to vaping is to save money.

One of the really positive aspects of this review is that stop smoking services still report that those who make a stop smoking attempt with the help of an e-cigarette, either alone or alongside NRTs, success rates are comparable, if not higher than, NRTs used alone.

A notable observation is that vapers widely reported that banning flavoured e-liquids, as has been seen in some US states, would deter them from using an e-cigarette to help quit smoking, with some saying it may even push them to use illicit vaping products.

Vaping among pregnant women and those with mental health conditions

Unfortunately, the review identified as significant lack of UK data in both these areas, and so international data has been discussed. It is suggested that vaping prevalence among those with a mental health condition seem to be quite high, but this is representative of the fact that smoking prevalence has always been high amongst this group.

The findings in the report once again come as good news for vaping, as it remains clear that vaping prevalence corresponds with decreasing smoking rates, and e-cigarettes are primarily being used for the purpose of smoking cessation and have not been adopted as a fashion or novelty. The news that youth vaping remains low is also fantastic news in light of the problems experienced in the US, where vaping prevalence in young people is high, showing that this is one trend the UK will not be following.