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E-cigs are now the most popular cessation aid in the UK


New data from UK anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) shows that there are now half as many vapers in the UK as smokers, with 3.6 million people vaping compared to 7.2m smokers in 2018 – and the majority of those vapers are ex-smokers.

The data comes from ASH’s long-running Smokefree GB survey and gives a fascinating insight into the migration of smokers from combustibles to e-cigs over time, as well as the numbers for dual users and more.

The proportion of vapers who are ex-smokers is now 54.1%, with the main reason 31% of respondents gave for vaping being to help quit combustible cigarettes. The second most common reason was to prevent a relapse into smoking traditional cigarettes.

However, almost 40% of vapers are dual users; this group gives three main reasons for their habits, with ‘cutting down’ (21%), saving money (16%) and helping to stop smoking (14%). The number of dual users, though, has shown a healthy decline from 44.2% in 2018 to 39.8% in 2019.

A higher proportion of ex-smokers who have tried vaping no longer vape (13.3%) than currently vape (11.7%), which means there are 2.2 million ex-smokers who have tried vaping but no longer vape, compared to just under two million ex-smokers (1.95 million) who are current vapers.

A tiny 0.8% of never-smokers currently vape, with never-smokers who have vaped at some point saying they did so just to give it a try (73%).

Most popular

E-cigs are now the most popular cessation aid in the UK, reportedly doubly as effective as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) when used in conjunction with behavioural support in smoking cessation clinics. The ASH report says e-cigs are “delivering tens of thousands of additional quitters annually”.

ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “Although e-cigarettes are now the most popular quitting aid, our survey finds that in 2019 over a third of smokers have still never tried vaping. As Stoptober [annual October-long multimedia campaign encouraging people to quit smoking] kicks off we’d encourage smokers who haven’t done so yet, to give vaping a try. E-cigarettes have been shown to be a very effective aid for smokers trying to quit, either on their own or with help from stop smoking services.”

Some smokers have of course not yet tried e-cigs, giving a variety of reasons why.

16% don’t want to substitute one addiction for another, while conversely 12% say that they aren’t addicted to smoking and don’t need help to quit. Though only 9% of smokers cite concerns about safety as their main reason for not trying e-cigs, another 11% say they don’t know enough about them, and 9% that they don’t believe e-cigarettes could help them quit or cut down, showing a lack of confidence in the products.

Lung disease unease

ASH also took the opportunity to address the recent outbreak of lung disease in the US, moving to counter some of the bad press around e-cigs. Arnott added: “The outbreak of vaping illness in the US is obviously concerning, but it appears to be linked to the misuse of e-cigarettes for illicit drug delivery. Nothing like this has been seen in the UK to date, where a proper regulatory system is in place for nicotine containing e-cigarettes, which is not yet the case in the US. Vapers should not be scared back to smoking by the news of vaping illness in the US. Nor should smokers stick to smoking rather than switch to vaping. It is essential however, to only use legal vapes bought from reputable suppliers in the UK and not source illicit unregulated products over the internet.” 

What This Means: 

The UK’s smoking prevalence is on a downward trend, and e-cigs are proving a very useful tool in the fight against traditional cigarettes, it seems. The report states: “If the association is causal, e-cigarettes were responsible for an estimated 69,930 additional ex-smokers in England in 2017. Furthermore, recent evidence from a randomised controlled trial showed that vaping was nearly twice as effective as NRT in helping smokers quit in a Stop Smoking Service setting in England.”

ASH acknowledges that vapers should be looking to quit nicotine altogether, but embrace the e-cig’s role in weaning people off traditional forms of tobacco – an approach also taken by the NHS in terms of harm reduction. Many other countries are looking to the UK to see whether the e-cig friendly path might work for them in the fight against combustibles, and in light of the recent issues in the US this report – and the accompanying release’s nod toward the issues in the US – could hardly have been timed better.


– Jon Bruford ECigIntelligence contributing writer: https://tinyurl.com/y3asev3c

Image: astar321/Adobe Stock