Experts have called for a crackdown on selling vapes to children to avoid exposing them to unnecessary risks.
Researchers found that although it was clear that vaping was better than smoking in the short and medium term, little is known about its long-term health impacts.
Although the study, commissioned by the Department of Health, concluded that smokers should be encouraged to switch to vaping, it said more research on the risks for those who have never smoked or vaped was needed.
Research published in July found the proportion of children vaping had risen in recent years, with many youngsters being influenced by sites such as TikTok.
Newer, disposable e-cigarettes, sometimes called “puff bars”, are becoming increasingly popularity with children, partly because of their cheap price (around £5) and variety of fruity flavours.
A survey of children on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found that vapers among children aged 11 to 17 had risen from 4% in 2020 to 7% this year.
In 2013, 3% of children aged 11 to 15 had ever vaped, but this rose to 8% in 2020 and 10% this year.
The new study from King’s College London concluded that smokers who switch to vaping will be exposed to significantly fewer toxins that promote cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease.
But people who have never smoked should not take up vaping because it is not risk-free, it said.
When it comes to selling vapes to under-18s, the study said local authority trading standards efforts “have been scaled down and compliance with regulations is not enough to prevent underage sales and access to illicit products”.
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It added that “more frequent surveillance of single-use disposable vaping products”, which are popular with children, is now needed.
Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London and the study’s lead author, said: “Smoking is uniquely deadly and will kill one in two regular sustained smokers, yet around two-thirds of adult smokers who would really benefit from switching to vaping don’t know that vaping is less harmful.
“However, the evidence we reviewed indicates that vaping is very unlikely to be risk-free.
“So we strongly discourage anyone who has never smoked from taking up vaping or smoking.”
Dr Jeanelle DeGruchy, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “The message is clear, if the choice is between smoking and vaping, choose vaping.
“If the choice is between vaping and fresh air, choose fresh air.”
There are around six million smokers in England and about 3.8 million vapers.