The health agency is one of the first governmental organizations to endorse e-cigarettes. The devices, which heat liquid nicotine into a vapor, have been criticized in the U.S. In January, California’s health department declared them a public health risk and urged lawmakers to regulate them like traditional cigarettes.

The U.K. review, which drew its conclusions based on national data and previously published studies, could bolster the argument of e-cigarette advocates, who champion the devices as a tool for adults to quit smoking. Those arguments have been challenged by health officials and anti-tobacco groups concerned that the devices could create a new generation of nicotine addicts.

E-cigarettes have boomed in popularity world-wide over the past five years. Global sales of the products were valued at $7 billion in 2014 and are forecast to reach $51 billion by 2030, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. About 5% of the British population use the devices.

The U.K. paper confirmed what most tobacco researchers have found in recent years: E-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which release more than 60 carcinogens through combustion. Kevin Fenton, director of health and well-being at Public Health England, said in a statement e-cigarettes aren’t “completely risk free but compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm.”

The paper found that almost all of the estimated 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in Great Britain are current or former smokers, and many of them are using the devices to help them quit smoking. The agency said less than 1% of adults and young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette users.

The paper contradicted a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that teens who used e-cigarettes were more likely to smoke cigarettes, cigars or hookahs than peers who hadn’t tried the devices. It wasn’t clear if the U.K. paper was aware of that study prior to publication.

Public Health England said “there is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or nonsmokers.” It estimates that only 2% of young people used e-cigarettes on a monthly basis.

“There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are undermining England’s falling smoking rates,” said Ann McNeill, a professor at King’s College London and an independent author of the review.

E-cigarettes remain a flash point in the U.S. because the devices are largely unregulated. The Food and Drug Administration proposed rules more than a year ago that would give it the authority to oversee the industry and require e-cig manufacturers to submit products for federal approval. It is expected to complete those rules in the coming weeks.


Aug. 18, 2015 9:50 p.m. ET

Write to Tripp Mickle at [email protected]

Source: Wall Street Journal Health