E-cigarettes – courage or caution?

It’s been announced today that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco. Public Health England’s report even suggests that they could become such a significant tool in the arsenal to help people stop smoking that they could even be prescribed on the NHS.

Whilst the evidence now clearly shows that it much more preferable for people to use e-cigarettes than smoke tobacco, am I being too much of a purist in being feeling uncomfortable about seemingly endorsing the use of e-cigarettes? Am I being too cautious in not recognising the significant public health value that could be gained by using e-cigarettes to further support smokers and to drive down incidences of smoking from the stubborn rate of around 20% of all adults?

I ordinarily embrace being courageous and I welcome change. But on this occasion I think there’s good reason to be tentative. Yes, e-cigarettes may represent a safer option than cigarettes, but as the public health experts acknowledge, they are not entirely risk-free. They have been in widespread use for less than five years, which means there’s not yet been time to conduct longitudinal studies to ensure that they don’t cause any long-term health consequence. It is also known that some problems come from the fact that the quality of the e-cigarettes being marketed varies significantly.

So before we rush for the prescription pad can we please ensure that there’s stronger regulation as well as tighter marketing controls so we don’t find our young people being deliberately targeted and the renormalising of addictions to nicotine. Otherwise I fear we could well come to regret our current enthusiasm.