A parliamentary committee has launched an inquiry into e-cigarettes.
The inquiry will examine the effects of e-cigarettes on health, as well as how they should be regulated and their financial impact.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee chair, Norman Lamb, said he wanted the inquiry to find out what evidence is missing about the effects of e-cigarettes.
“Almost 3 million people in the UK now use e-cigarettes, but there are still significant gaps in the research guiding their regulation and sale,” he said. “They are seen by some as valuable tools that will reduce the number of people smoking ‘conventional’ cigarettes, and seen by others as ‘re-normalising’ smoking for the younger generation.”
This split opinion is reflected in different international approaches, with Public Health England estimating that e-cigarettes are far safer than tobacco, while the US surgeon general has referred to them as a ‘national public health concern’.
The UK has promoted the devices to smokers as a way to reduce the harm caused by tobacco, but banned their sale to under-18s to limit uptake in young people.
Some have expressed concern over the possibility that e-cigarettes will lead to people taking up smoking conventional cigarettes. Recent research has shown that while teens who vape might be more likely to try cigarettes, most young people who try e-cigarettes don’t become regular users. In the UK, the number of non-smokers who vape regularly is extremely small.
Use of e-cigarettes has risen to around 2.9 million adults from 700,000 in 2012. Conventional smoking fell to the lowest recorded level in 2016 of 7.6 million adult smokers in the UK (16%).
George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s senior policy manager, welcomed the inquiry, saying that the evidence so far shows e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking.
“Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of cancer in the UK – we’re determined to help drive down smoking rates and we believe e-cigarettes can help people quit,” he said. “We’re funding over 40 studies looking at e-cigarettes, including their impact on health, their ability to help people stop smoking and the impact of marketing and product regulations.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health, said that while e-cigarettes can help smokers quit they aren’t a stand-alone solution, and any policies should be based on the best available evidence.
“It’s important that the evidence is considered in the context of tried and tested policies, such as taxation and regulating tobacco marketing, that have been driving down rates of smoking for many decades,” she said.
The inquiry is accepting written submissions until Friday 8 December 2017. The full remit of the inquiry can be found here.