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95% Safer Or Not?

The anti-vape brigade appears to have made the claim that vaping is 95% safer than smoking its primary target for 2020. Is it still valid?

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Vaping was hitting its stride and breaking into mainstream consciousness at the start of 2015. People were beginning to form opinions based on scare stories and asking key questions – one of which was “Is it safer than smoking”, the subject of our other article today. Public Health England (PHE) launched a report stating that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking and harm reduction opponents have struggled with it ever since.

Professor Ann McNeil and Professor Peter Hajek produced three key findings in the report:

  • The current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking
  • Nearly half the population (44.8%) don’t realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking
  • There is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers

Those opposed to tobacco-harm reduction through vaping have striven (and struggled) to disprove the last one, their lies have shamefully attack the second – and they’ve constantly slurred the 95% figure by claiming it has no basis in science. Simon Capewell repeats the fraudulent claims in the Daily Mail this week (our other article today).

Does “95%” still hold up five years later?

Clive Bates, one of the world’s leading harm reduction experts when it comes to vaping, calls attacks on PHE’s figure “a feeble and empty critique”.

A recent paper by Eissenberg et al. said there’s an “invalidity” to PHE’s report, but then base all of their comments on conjecture and guesswork. Drilling into their work, Clive says: “not a single word of their paper addresses the supposed foundation of their critique – that PHE/RCP are wrong and the risks of vaping are likely to exceed five per cent of those of smoking.”

Theirs’ and Capewell’s position is rooted in the fact that vaping isn’t safe, something harm reductions can agree with, and they seem to feel this entitles them to dismiss PHE’s figure. It doesn’t; as Clive points out, that paper offers up “No analysis, no data, no evidence – nothing that discusses relative risk and why PHE/RCP are supposedly wrong. Niente. Nada. Rien. Nichts. Nothing.”

They say:

  • That the 95% estimate comes from a single expert panel held in 2013
  • Today’s electronic cigarettes are different
  • Electronic cigarettes cause harm to cells
  • Electronic cigarettes harm users
  • Electronic cigarettes increase smoking risk
  • Electronic cigarette aerosol is not harmless

Point by point, Clive addresses and eviscerates their arguments in his latest blog post.

“PHE and RCP [Royal College of Physicians] are trying to help people gain a feel for the relative risk of vaping and smoking in a way that is accessible, clear and actionable and based in the science as we currently understand it. RCP and PHE do not make a zero-risk claim, yet all the authors manage to present is a few selected papers and arguments that show that risks may be non-zero in absolute terms.”

Clive concludes that “vaping is likely to be at least 95% less risky than smoking and may present substantially lower risks than that”. Unless the opposition can pony up a viable alternative, which they’ve failed to do over a five-year period, then maybe they should consider a different hill to die on?


  • 95% Report Launch, POTV – [link]
  • Vaping is still at least 95% lower risk than smoking, Clive Bates – [link]
Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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