E-CIGARETTES are helping us to quit smoking and scientists in Southampton are at the forefront of developing new ways of “vaping”.

A study published by the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) has said the growth of electronic cigarettes in England was linked to more people becoming non-smokers.

A team from University College London and Cancer Research UK, say vaping may have assisted around 18,000 people kick the habit.

Although these numbers are relatively small, they are clinically significant because of the “huge health gains from stopping smoking,” said study authors Emma Beard, Robert West, Susan Michie and Jamie Brown .

Electronic cigarettes are not yet widely available on the NHS and health professionals maintain that prescription medicines and government-funded stop-smoking services are still the best way to give up the weed.

However, Public Health England says e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful to health than normal cigarettes, and when supported by a smoking cessation service, help most smokers to give up tobacco altogether.

Sales of e-cigarettes have been rising steadily since they first went on sale in the UK in 2007 and are now used by nearly three million in the UK.

They have replaced nicotine patches and gum for those seeking to abandon the weed.

The BMJ research looked at data from the Smoking Toolkit Study and the NHS Stop Smoking Service for the period 2006 to 2015.

Over the study period there was an increase in the success rate of those who reported a quit attempt from 10.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2006 to 18.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2015.

While use of e-cigarettes among smokers was negligible in the last quarter of 2006, it rose to 21.3 per cent at the end of the study.

The use of e-cigarettes during an attempt to quit also rose from negligible to 35 per cent by 2015 Professor Robert West, from the health behaviour research centre at University College London (UCL), said: “England is sometimes singled out as being too positive in its attitude to e-cigarettes.

"These data suggest that our relatively liberal regulation of e-cigarettes is probably justified.’’

Writing in the BMJ, John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, said the results suggested e-cigarette use could contribute to falling smoking rates which fell by one per cent from 2014 to 2015.

“This significant year-on-year fall indicates that something in UK tobacco control policy is working and successful quitting through substitution with e-cigarettes is one likely major contributor,” said Dr Britton.

Prof Linda Bauld, of Cancer Research UK, said: “The British public have voted with their feet and are choosing to use e-cigarettes. This is a positive choice, and we should promote it.”

Scientists from one of the world’s biggest tobacco firms BAT (British America Tobacco) pioneered e cigarettes and are working on new forms of vaping at their labs in Southampton.

Commenting on the BMJ report, David O’Reilly, BAT’s Group scientific and R&D director, said: “The study illustrates a clear surge in e-cigarette usage in effective attempts to quit smoking, which shows a positive trend in the adoption of e-cigarettes as alternatives to cigarettes.

“We have been researching and developing tobacco alternatives for decades to provide better and safer choices for consumers, and in the last decade in particular, e-cigarettes.

Daily Echo:

“Another element that could be explored beyond this study is how innovation in the e-cigarette category may have added to this adoption.

"The product quality, partly enabled by the evolution of technology and innovation, has ensured that adult smokers now have access to products that provide a more satisfying experience in their transition from conventional cigarettes.

“It is only with assurances around product quality and safety that this important emerging product category can continue to grow.”

BAT have been working on ways to reduce the toxicants produced by burning tobacco. Lighting up releases 100 toxicants and it is the combustion not the nicotine which causes health problems.

The firm were the first major tobacco company to produce an e-cigarette – the Vype. The Vype e-Pen Blended Tobacco was tested alongside the Kentucky Reference Cigarette 3R4F which were both puffed using puffing robots in separate rooms and the emissions collected and tested at independent labs.

Test results published this week showed that the toxicity was found to be on average 95 per cent less than in conventional cigarette smoke.

Ten years ago BAT launched its Next Generation project to research alternatives ways of delivering the nicotine hit millions crave and their mantra has been “heat not burn”.

Scientists at Southampton are currently working on a device which creates an aerosol like an e-cigarette by heating liquid which is drawn across a plug of tobacco. BAT are to test out this product in Romania, but it will be some time before its ready to challenge the e-cig.

The labs at Southampton are also working on a system which requires no heat. The Voke is a tobacco inhaler using the world’s smallest breath-activated valve and involving no heating or burning.

It will be aimed at smokers who want to quit or cut down and will only be available in pharmacies at first, but BAT have not ruled out the possibility of them being made available for non-medical use.

David Extance, managing director of Romsey-based Lonjas, which makes different flavoured liquids for e-cigarettes, welcomed the BMJ report and said with the growing support from the medical community it was time the government relaxed the strict advertising rules governing vaping.

“For advertising we are classed, wrongly, as a tobacco product. We are in fact a nicotine delivery system and it’s now been shown that we are gateway out of smoking.”

Panel An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that converts liquid nicotine into a mist, or vapour, that the user inhales. There’s no fire, and no ash.

E-cigarettes do not contain all of the harmful chemicals associated with smoking tobacco cigarettes, such as carbon monoxide and tar.

Some users say e-cigs have helped reduce their “smoker’s cough,” sharpened their senses of taste and smell, and even improved their sleep.

The electronic cigarette was invented by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, who patented the device in 2003 and introduced it to the Chinese market the following year.