Just a few years ago, if you mentioned e-cigarette usage to a doctor or health expert you would have likely received a warning about health risks, or perhaps just friendly tut-tuts of disapproval.

However, over the last few years, the opinions of many leading doctors and health professionals towards e-cigarettes have changed. In fact, today, many health advocates see e-cigarettes not as a public health risk, but as a potential harm reduction tool.

How did this change in opinion happen? More importantly, why did it happen? In this post, we’ll look at the changing attitudes towards e-cigarettes among members of the health and medical community, as well as the evidence that’s swayed their opinions closer towards positivity.

E-cigarettes are relatively new, and health experts tend to be conservative towards new or experimental products

Compared to cigarettes and traditional methods of smoking tobacco, which have been around for hundreds of years, e-cigarettes are relatively new. In fact, most of the e-cigarettes available today are based on designs that entered the market less than a decade ago.

As public authorities on health, doctors and health experts tend to hold naturally skeptical and conservative attitudes towards new treatments.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — after all, if a new medicine suddenly came onto the market but hadn’t yet been properly tested, you probably wouldn’t want your doctor to recommend it to you until it was clear, beyond any doubt, that it was safe to use.

This was the situation during the early years of widespread e-cigarette use, with limited studies available for experts to draw from in order to reach a conclusion on whether e-cigarettes were or weren’t safe to use.

View studies from this period, such as this review of study literature dating up to 2013, and you’ll see the word “inconclusive” used often in reference to e-cigarette safety. In short, during the first decade of e-cigarette usage, health experts didn’t have a lot of conclusive data to draw from.

As e-cigarettes have become mainstream, some health experts have taken on pragmatic, benefits-focused attitudes

Today, attitudes towards e-cigarettes are vastly different to a decade ago. While e-cigarettes were previously brushed off as “experimental” ways of inhaling nicotine, new medical studies are beginning to show that e-cigarettes are far less dangerous than previously thought.

In fact, a 2017 study from researchers at UCL shows that e-cigarettes are significantly safer than conventional cigarette smoking, with e-cigarette liquids containing far lower amounts of hazardous chemicals and carcinogens than the tobacco in cigarettes.

Seeing the large-scale public health benefits in reducing traditional cigarette smoking, many health advocates now view e-cigarette usage as a harm reduction opportunity for people that struggle to quit smoking conventional cigarettes.

By switching to e-cigarettes, the study suggests, smokers can reduce their level of exposure to dangerous chemicals such as NNAL (a tobacco-specific chemical linked to lung cancer) by as much as 97 per cent.

These positive — or at least, less negative — studies have attracted mainstream attention, with coverage in newspapers such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Still, not all health experts are onboard. Recent research data shows that public opinion on the use of e-cigarettes is mixed, with some people viewing them as a valuable tool to help smokers make progress towards quitting and others more sceptical.

However, the overall trend is positive, with a growing number of health experts willing to view e-cigarettes with a pragmatic attitude towards to their potential benefits for cigarette smokers, particularly in reducing the incredible harm caused by traditional cigarettes and tobacco.