There has been a significant increase in the number of e-cigarette or vaping users worldwide, according to new research from the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR).
A new peer-reviewed paper published this week in the journal Drugs, Habits and Social Policy estimates that there are now 82 million e-cigarette users worldwide. The GSTHR project, from Knowledge Action Change (KAC), the UK’s public health agency, found figures for 2021 were 20% higher than 2020 figures.
According to KAC, e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking. “Each year, smoking kills 8 million people worldwide,” the group wrote in a release. “Therefore, the increase in the number of vaping users, most of whom have switched from vaping to vaping, is a very positive step towards reducing the harm of combustible cigarettes and accelerating smoking cessation.”
The new research comes shortly after the UK government announced its Swap to Stop scheme, which aims to provide 1 million smokers with free vaping starter kits to help them quit. Lax vaping laws in the UK have helped bring smoking rates down to the lowest levels on record, according to the KAC.
“However, the UK’s support for e-cigarette tobacco harm reduction stands in stark contrast to the situation in many countries,” KAC wrote. “GSTHR data shows e-cigarettes are banned in 36 countries and there is a regulatory and legislative vacuum in another 84 countries. Millions of smokers who want to switch to safer e-cigarettes cannot because of bans, weak or non-existent product regulation Do so, or risk being forced to buy potentially unsafe products on the black or gray market.”
Gerry Stimson, director of KAC and emeritus professor at Imperial College London, said: “The latest global state of tobacco harm reduction estimates suggest that 82 million people worldwide now use e-cigarettes, proving that consumers find these products appealing.”
GSTHR research shows that despite restrictive regulations or bans in many countries, more and more people are choosing to switch to safer alternatives to combustible tobacco. “Like other countries such as New Zealand, the UK has provided strong evidence that positive government messages on tobacco harm reduction from e-cigarettes can accelerate reductions in smoking rates,” the KAC wrote. The meeting could jeopardize global progress in reducing smoking-related death and disease through tobacco harm reduction,” the public health agency added, referring to the Conference of the Parties to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Tobacco Control is scheduled for November in Panama City.
WHO remains against the use of safer nicotine products for smoking cessation, despite supporting harm reduction in other public health areas such as drug use and HIV/AIDS prevention.
“The latest global state of tobacco harm reduction estimates show that 82 million people worldwide now use e-cigarettes, evidence that consumers find these products attractive,” said Gerry Stimson, KAC Director and Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London. “Millions of people are quitting smoking, as evidenced in the UK. Safer nicotine products give one billion smokers around the world the opportunity to quit using alternatives that pose significantly reduced risks to their health.”