Warnings over e-cigarettes are alarmist – and increasing their use could save many lives, researchers have said.
For every million smokers who switch to e-cigarettes, more than 6,000 lives a year could be saved, according to the University College London team.
Meanwhile another group of London-based experts has attacked criticism of e-cigarettes as “misleading”.
Last week the World Health Organization called for e-cigarette use to be banned in public places and workplaces.
The WHO said this was because they could increase the levels of some toxins and nicotine in the air.
Its report also warned about the risk of e-cigarettes acting as a gateway by which non-smokers might start smoking real cigarettes.
But the UCL team said the numbers of non-smokers using e-cigarettes amounted to less than 1% of the population, according to the Smoking Toolkit study, a monthly survey of smokers in England.
Prof Robert West added that even though some toxins were present in vapour from e-cigarettes the concentrations were very low.“You have to be a bit crazy to carry on smoking conventional cigarettes when there are e-cigarettes available,” he said.
“The vapour contains nothing like the concentrations of carcinogens and toxins as cigarette smoke.
“In fact, concentrations are almost all well below a twentieth of cigarettes.”
Using these estimates it would mean 6,000 lives a year being saved for every million smokers who exchanged real cigarettes for e-cigarettes, he said.
If all nine million UK smokers used them that would equate to 54,000 lives saved out of the current 60,000 premature deaths, Prof West said.
His concerns were echoed by researchers at the National Addiction Centre based at King’s College London and the Tobacco Dependence Unit at Queen Mary University.
They carried out an analysis – published in the journal Addiction – of the WHO research which contributed to last week’s report.
They concluded that some of the assumptions WHO had made were “misleading”.