A YouGov survey of over 12,000 adults commissioned by Action of Smoking and Health (ASH) has indicated that, in the UK, the number of ex-smokers using e-cigarettes (1.7 million) has now risen above the number of current smokers using them (1.4 million).

However, the research also highlighted the number of smokers who perceive e-cigarettes as being more or just as harmful as regular cigarettes has also risen since 2012.

Has much has vaping increased by?

There are now 3.2 million adult Britons using e-cigarettes, according to the study; a four-and-a-half-fold increase on 2012, when there were 700,000.

Of the vapers surveyed, quitting or abstaining from smoking was given as the main reason for using e-cigarettes; this included 40% of current smokers using them, and 62% of ex-smokers using them.

The rise in the use of e-cigarettes, along with the smoking ban, has widely been thought to be a main contributing factor in the drop in UK smokers; as we’ve written previously, the percentage of adults in England smoking fell from 24% in 2005 to 16.9% in 2015.

ASH says the new data shows that, overall, smokers are becoming aware of the much lower risks of e-cigarette use compared with tobacco use.

Contrasting perceptions

That said, the research did reveal that a significant percentage of smokers still have a negative view of e-cigarettes.

According to ASH, between 2014 and 2015, the number of smokers who believed that e-cigarettes were either as or more harmful than tobacco rose from 10% to 16%. These latest figures suggest that this view is now held by 22% of smokers.

Interestingly, the view that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco products also increased among smokers: from 22% in 2017 to 27% in 2018. (The percentage that didn’t know if they were more, less or just as harmful fell from 28% to 22%.)

Dr Leonie Brose from King’s College London described this trend as ‘worrying’. She also asserted that campaigns to address this, and raise awareness that vaping is much less harmful than smoking, needed to continue.

Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, noted that UK policy was heading in the right direction. But she also said that making e-cigarettes available on prescription could help smokers even more.

The study comes after a report in August from MPs called for restrictions around e-cigarettes to be loosened, asking the government to contemplate allowing their use on public transport, and permitting them to be advertised.

What options are there for people wanting to quit?

E-cigarettes have fast become one of the leading aids for people who want to kick their smoking habit. Awareness of their availability has risen dramatically, according to ASH’s report; in 2012 only 49% of smokers knew about e-cigarettes, whereas in 2018 94% of smokers do.

Other options available to people who want to quit are include nicotine replacement therapy (such as patches and gum) and prescription therapies such as Champix and Zyban. It’s important when using these treatments to do so under the supervision of a health professional; they will need to be used as part of a wider stop smoking programme including motivational support.

The NHS provides services which can help people to give up smoking. More information on these can be found on the Smokefree website.