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E-cigarettes: Majority of the population sees health risks

09/2020, 07.04.2020

The BfR publishes special issue of the Consumer Monitor on e-cigarettes

The electronic cigarette - or e-cigarette for short - has become popular in recent years. However, the vast majority of the population (84 percent) associate health risks, such as lung damage or cancer, with the consumption of e-cigarettes. This is shown by a recent representative survey carried out by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). During the use of e-cigarettes, liquids containing nicotine in cartridges are vaporised. In addition to nicotine, other ingredients in the liquids as well as possible impurities can lead to health risks. "Many people are aware that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to cigarettes," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "At present, too little is known about the health effects of e-cigarettes. This is what we are conducting research on at the BfR."

Link to the Consumer Monitor special on e-cigarettes online PDF

Link to the e-cigarette A-Z index

In order to determine the population's attitudes and risk perception surrounding e-cigarettes, around 1,000 people living in private households in Germany and at least 14 years of age were interviewed by telephone on behalf of the BfR.

It showed that in Germany, around a quarter of respondents smoke cigarettes, while around 6 percent currently use e-cigarettes. About two thirds also reach for "conventional" cigarettes. The majority of all respondents (84 percent) are aware that e-cigarettes can pose health risks; 65 percent of e-cigarette users say the same. The most frequently mentioned risks in this context are effects on the lungs and cancer. However, there is disagreement among the population as to whether the e-cigarette or the conventional cigarette is considered riskier to health. A total of 37 percent of all respondents consider the health risks of both alternatives to be equally high. The rest classify either the e-cigarette or the conventional cigarette as more problematic in terms of health more or less equally. Conversely, those who use e-cigarettes see 67 percent fewer risks here than with "normal" cigarettes.

Despite the perceived health risks, those who use e-cigarettes in particular also attribute positive aspects to them; the most frequently mentioned are a more pleasant smell, easier to stop smoking and e-cigarettes being less harmful compared to cigarettes. Respondents who neither use e-cigarettes nor smoke cigarettes do not share this opinion: More than 90 percent of them do not associate any positive aspects with the e-cigarette. Around one in five of all respondents believes that e-cigarettes work well for stopping smoking. More than half of all respondents think that e-cigarettes are unsuitable for giving up smoking.

In 2012, scientists at the BfR already assessed some ingredients typically found in e-cigarette liquids with regard to the health risk, including nicotine, fumigation agents as well as additives and flavouring substances. The result: The vapours of these substances can impair users’ health. There may also be risks to bystanders who inhale the vapours produced.

Almost half of the current respondents in Germany consider their environment (from passive vapours) to be compromised as a result. Around two out of three respondents would approve of smoking bans that include the use of e-cigarettes.

The BfR points out that the consumption of conventional cigarettes involves a significantly higher health risk than the consumption of e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are not a risk-free alternative; they can also be harmful to health. However, according to present knowledge, the hazard characterisation is significantly lower than for conventional cigarettes.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the German federal government and German federal states ("Laender") on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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Publications - BfR Consumer Monitor

 (1)
Date Title Size
07.04.2020
BfR Consumer Monitor 2019, Special E-cigarettes 1.0 MB
PDF-File

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