Researchers from University College London (UCL) estimated that for every million smokers who switch from tobacco to electronic cigarettes, over 6,000 premature deaths would be prevented each year in the UK.
There are around nine million British smokers and if they all switched to the nicotine vapour inhalers instead of the tobacco products they currently use, around 54,000 lives could be saved.
The experts said the reduced mortality rate even accounts for the possibility that e-cigarettes may carry an increased risk of death.
But in an editorial published in the British Journal of General Practice, Professor Robert West and Dr Jamie Brown from UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health argue that even though some toxins are present in the vapour from e-cigarettes, the concentrations are “very low”.
“In fact, toxin concentrations are almost all well below 1/20th that of cigarette smoke.”
They also rejected comments about e-cigarettes “re-normalising” smoking and the products acting as a “gateway” to smoking.
The rise in use of e-cigarettes has been accompanied by an increase in the numbers of smokers quitting and a continued fall in the numbers of people that smoke, they said.
Meanwhile, the number of e-cigarette users who took up the habit having never smoked in the past is “extremely small”, they added. They wrote: “There are a number of public health advocates who appear to consider electronic cigarettes primarily as a threat to public health, and bodies such as the British Medical Association and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are warning smokers about their potential dangers.
“Given that smokers smoke primarily for the nicotine but die primarily from the tar, one might imagine that e-cigarettes would be welcomed.”
Meanwhile, another paper has been published critiquing a 2013 WHO commissioned-report on e-cigarettes. Writing in the journal Addiction, the authors said the report was “misleading”.
Lead author Professor Ann McNeill from the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London, said: “We were surprised by the negativity of the commissioned review, and found it misleading and not an accurate reflection of available evidence.
“E-cigarettes are new and we certainly don’t yet have all the answers to their long-term health impact, but what we do know is that they are much safer than e-cigarettes, which kill over six million people a year worldwide.”
Last week, the WHO called for greater restrictions on the use, sale and promotion of e-cigarettes.
But one of the latest report’s authors, Professor Peter Hajek, from the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Killing benefits, which are huge, for risks which are small is like asking (people) to stop using mobile phones and tablets... because of a one in ten million chance the battery might overheat.”