LONDON, April 28 (UPI) -- A doctors group in the U.K. is now recommending e-cigarettes be among the tools used to help people quit smoking cigarettes, pointing to "vaping" as less of a risk to health than inhaling the burning fumes of tobacco.
The Royal College of Physicians issued the recommendation with acknowledgement that the full risks of nicotine vaporizers remain unknown, aside from the fact that e-cigarette liquid contains fewer carcinogenic chemicals than cigarettes.
Smoking prevalence has decreased around the world, dropping to about 18 percent in the U.K. and 16.4 percent in the United States, both of which are all-time lows.
Research in recent years as e-cigarettes and vaping devices have become more popular has suggested some brands have the same or more carcinogens and the WHO has advocated for a series of bans on their use amid concerns they motivate people to continue smoking cigarettes.
And while the physicians' group notes e-cigarettes still pose a threat to health, that threat is significantly lower than that from cigarettes.
"The growing use of electronic cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco smoking has been a topic of great controversy, with much speculation over their potential risks and benefits," John Britton, chair of the Royal College of Physicians' Tobacco Advisory Group, said in a press release. "This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the UK."
For the study, published by the Royal College of Physicians on their website, researchers collected evidence on usage, availability and rates of people switching from tobacco to vaping.
They found that e-cigarettes are used almost entirely by people who already use tobacco, and can lead to successful cessation in a proportion of those who attempt to quit cigarettes. They also say there is no evidence that nicotine replacement therapies and e-cigarettes attract adults who have never smoked, or that they serve as a smoking gateway for young people.
The researchers acknowledge the need for reasonable regulation on vaping products, but say the devices can be used to reduce risk for cancer and other diseases related to inhaling burning tobacco, based on studies showing e-cigarettes on the market right now are "unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm" from cigarettes.
"With careful management and proportionate regulation, harm reduction provides an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people," said Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians. "It is an opportunity that, with care, we should take."