Although most vapers know that vaping has been declared 95% safer than smoking by Public Health England, few know why. This article provides the back story.
In 2015, Public Health England (PHE) had officially declared that “vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking”. A statement that the health organization confirmed in 2018, when it was time to launch its new campaign called “PHE’s Health Harms campaign”. However, despite the fact that the “95% safer” part of the news has made it around the world, most vapers are unaware of the scientific facts that led PHE to make this statement. Let us explore this together.
A long process and many studies
The story begins in 2014, when PHE commissioned a report to examine the health effects of vaping. A year later, the 2015 report, written by John Britton and Ilze Bogdanovica of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, was presented to the organization. After reviewing the report, PHE officially declared that “the hazard associated with the use of EC products currently on the market is likely to be extremely low, and certainly much lower than that of smoking, and the health risks of passive exposure to electronic cigarette vapor are likely to be extremely low.”
The origin of the 95% figure
To better understand where the “at least 95% safer” claim comes from, we need to look at another study conducted by an “international panel of experts convened by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. Its researchers “developed a multi-criteria decision analysis model of the relative importance of different types of harm associated with the use of nicotine-containing products”.
The analysis of twelve products defined fourteen harm criteria, seven of which represent harm to users and the other seven represent harm to bystanders. The study authors scored all products on each criterion for their average harm worldwide, using a scale where 100 defined the most harmful product on a given criterion and a score of zero defined no harm.
The results were as follows:
As clearly shown above, ENDS (e-cigs) received a score of less than 5, meaning that the devices carry about 5% of the risks of smoking. In other words, “vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking”.
Formaldehydes and acrolein
n order to ensure that the findings are accurate, the UK government had also looked into the compounds found in vapor, especially formaldehydes and acrolein.
The first research looking into these emissions was a Japanese study first mentioned in 2014 by the Japan Times, according to which “during the tests of various electronic cigarettes, one was responsible for emissions of formaldehydes 10 times higher than tobacco cigarettes”.
However, the PHE had explained that these toxic emissions only occurred when e-liquid was overheated. Meanwhile the study in question has never been published.