More than half of the estimated 2.9 million people in the UK who use e-cigarettes have given up smoking tobacco, a survey suggests.
But many people overestimate the relative health risks of vaping, which may have contributed to a slowdown in the numbers turning to e-cigarettes. Nine million people in the UK still smoke tobacco.
The number of people vaping or using e-cigarettes has quadrupled in the past five years, the annual Smokefree GB survey by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found, with many people turning to them for help with quitting or cutting down on smoking tobacco.
For the first time, more than half of vapers said they had quit smoking. Most of the remainder continued to both vape and smoke tobacco.
Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said the finding was encouraging. “This year’s Ash survey finds that around 1.5 million vapers are ex-smokers, for the first time a larger number than those who continue to smoke,” she said.
“This is encouraging news as we know that vapers who continue to smoke continue to be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals. The message for the 1.3 million vapers who still smoke is that they need to go further and switch completely.”
But vaping’s rate of growth has slowed considerably in the past couple of years, and the survey found many people overestimated the health risks of vaping compared with tobacco.
In 2015, Public Health England concluded vaping was about 95% less harmful than smoking. But more than a quarter of respondents (26%) said they believed e-cigarettes were equally or more harmful than the traditional equivalents, with only 13% saying they were much less harmful than smoking.
Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Ash, said: “It’s excellent news that the number of vapers who have quit smoking is continuing to grow, but there are still 9 million smokers compared to only 1.5 million vapers who don’t smoke at all.
“The rapid growth in e-cigarette use has come to an end while over a third of smokers have still never tried e-cigarettes, saying the main reasons are concerns about the safety and addictiveness of e-cigarettes. It’s very important smokers realise that vaping is much, much less harmful than smoking.”
The findings were based on an online survey by YouGov of 12,969 adults, weighted to be representative of the UK adult population.