Smoking is still the biggest single killer in the UK, causing 77,800 deaths in England alone in 2017, and 489,300 hospital admissions. Smokers who start smoking at around the start of adult life lose an average of 10 years of life expectancy, or around 1 year for every 4 years of smoking after the age of 30.
The RCP’s first report on tobacco, Smoking and Health in 1962 was the first to alert the public to the dangers of smoking. Since 2000 it has produced a series of detailed reports focusing on how to reduce the amount of death and disease from smoking, and lobbies government to introduce more harm reduction policies and support for smokers who want to give up.
The RCP’s 2016 report Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction underlined that people smoke because they are addicted to nicotine, but are harmed by the other constituents of tobacco smoke, and that provision of the nicotine without the other harmful components can prevent most of the harm from smoking. The report noted that the hazard to health arising from long-term vapour inhalation was unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.
The report also noted that health risks were likely to arise from contaminants and components generated by the vaporisation process, which could be reduced as better technology and purer products became available, but these risks were still likely to be substantially lower than those of smoking. It recommended that regulation of ecigarettes should aim to minimise potential exposure to harmful vapour constituents.
Ecigarettes are proving much more popular than pre-existing nicotine replacement therapies and the latest evidence is that in 2017 around 50,700 to 69,930 smokers used vaping as an aid to giving up — they would otherwise have carried on smoking.