A new study estimates the overall risk of harm from e-cigarettes at less than 5% of tobacco
The HSE has said the ban on vaping devices and electronic cigarettes in Irish hospitals will continue – despite fresh calls for them to be officially licensed as medical aids for quitting smoking.
It comes as Public Health England (PHE) urged hospitals in Britain to begin selling e-cigarettes and to provide patients with vaping lounges.
The health body also called on the British Government to make the devices available on prescription through the National Health Service (NHS) based on how successful they have been in helping people give up smoking.
A new independent review into the latest evidence estimates the overall risk of harm from e-cigarettes at less than 5% of that from smoking tobacco.
It calculated the risk of cancer to be less than 1%
The review also suggests that at least 20,000 people are quitting smoking in England every year with the help of e cigarettes.
The research was carried out by experts from King's College London, the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, the University of Stirling and Cancer Research UK.
Despite the findings, HSE public health adviser Dr Paul Kavanagh told Newstalk that the Government’s stance on vaping, as outlined in the Tobacco Free Ireland action plan, is that there is a “lack of research in relation to the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes and a lack of sufficient evidence that they aid with smoking cessation."
He said the executive would reconsider the ban on HSE campuses ans facilities if Government policy on the “role of e-cigarettes and vaping in tobacco control” changes.
He said a HIQA assessment of the devices was that “early evidence is promising” but not enough evidence exists for the HSE to recommend them.
He noted that any e-cigarette licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) can be prescribed by Irish doctors.
However, as things stand, none of the devices have yet been licensed.
The PHE study found that, after a steep rise in usage, the number of e-cigarette users has plateaued in the UK at just under three million.
It warned that one of the reasons the numbers have stopped increasing could be due to thousands of smokers "incorrectly" believing vaping is as harmful as smoking.
The experts found two in five smokers have never tried an e-cigarette.
PHE experts, writing in The Lancet, said: "Although not without risk, the overall risk of harm is estimated at less than 5% of that from smoking tobacco; the risk of cancer has been calculated to be less than 1%."
Martin Dockerell, PHE tobacco control lead has advised that smoking should be completed banned from hospital grounds – with smoking shelters re-purposed as vaping shelters.
"There are two parts to being a smoke-free hospital,” he said. “One is not allowing smoking on the premises; the other is helping every smoker to quit.”
"There is no reason why a hospital shouldn't designate some indoor areas where patients and visitors can vape."
Professor John Newton, director for health improvement at PHE, said: "Every minute someone is admitted to hospital from smoking, with around 79,000 deaths a year in England alone.
"Our new review reinforces the finding that vaping is a fraction of the risk of smoking, at least 95% less harmful, and of negligible risk to bystanders.
"Yet over half of smokers either falsely believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or just don't know.
"It would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about their safety."