Data seen by BuzzFeed News has revealed a sharp increase in the number of people switching to e-cigarettes – and major tobacco firms are cashing in.
People smoke e-cigarettes as the Vape Lab in Shoreditch, east London
John Stillwell / PA WIRE / Via paimages.co.uk
British smokers are switching to vaping in rapidly increasing numbers, according to exclusive data seen by BuzzFeed News that reveals that e-cigarette sales rocketed 24% in 2015.
As Public Health England launches its annual anti-smoking campaign, the data, from market research firm IRI, shows that rather than trying to quit completely, smokers are opting for e-cigarettes rather than tobacco alternatives such as patches. One million fewer quit-smoking aids were sold in the UK in 2015 than the previous year.
Sales of one e-cig brand, Blu, grew 347% this year after being snapped up by Imperial Tobacco.
Once the preserve of small-time entrepreneurs, the vaping market is now dominated by giant tobacco manufacturers who own each of the top five best-selling brands, the IRI data shows. The owners of Marlboro, Camel, and Richmond are among those cashing in.
The involvement of tobacco giants has added to fears about the long-term health effects of vaping. While experts agree unanimously that tobacco is toxic, there is a lack of agreement on the potential harmful effects of e-cigarettes, which can be flavoured to taste like almost anything from mint to “peach breeze”.
While e-cigarette manufacturers dismiss the concerns as scaremongering, studies linking vaping to cancer have been popping up frequently over the past year, and some scientists have said there is an alarming lack of evidence either way.
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Most recently a study by Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System found two popular brands contained toxins that could spark tumour growth. Other studies have produced similar findings, though these have often been criticised for being too narrow to be credible.
In this context the involvement of big tobacco firms in vaping leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for many – including Public Health England, which gave e-cigarettes a stamp of approval in August with a report claiming they are 95% safer than tobacco.
“We share the concerns of our public health partners about the involvement of the tobacco industry in the manufacture of e-cigarettes,” Martin Dockrell, head of tobacco control at Public Health England, told BuzzFeed News.
“However the health of smokers has to be the primary consideration. We want to see smokers provided with a choice of safe and effective e-cigarette products that they want to use to quit smoking for good.”