PHE hits back at conflict of interest claims on e-cigs


Originally Published 2nd September 2015: Andrew Don – The Grocer

Public Health England (PHE) has hit back at suggestions it made claims about the relative safety of e-cigarettes and vaping based on “flimsy” evidence.

The advisory body to the Department of Health made front-page national newspaper headlines with its “landmark review” last month, which claimed electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) were 95% less harmful to health than conventional tobacco products.

But The Lancet attacked the review for basing the major conclusion and message of its report on “extraordinarily flimsy” evidence.

It also claimed PHE had used data obtained by researchers with direct financial links to e-cigarette manufacturers.

But PHE denied this was the case, telling The Grocer it had both paid for and commissioned the study, which was authored by independent academics.

It said The Lancet’s claims about a conflict of interest related to just one of the 185 reports it reviewed for its study, where three of the 11 panellists declared a financial conflict. The spokesman said this did not impact the independence of its own research.

Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, admitted the long-term impact of using e-cigarettes remained unknown, but felt confident PHE’s 95% figure was accurate.

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) added that there was “no question” that e-cigarettes were substantially less harmful than smoked tobacco and that smokers could significantly reduce their risk by switching.

Whether the reduction in risk was 95% or slightly less (or slightly more) was not the point. “What was of much greater concern to Ash was that a growing number of smokers were failing to understand the relative risks and may as a result be put of switching from smoking.”

The health charity said PHE had not fallen short and had put the message out clearly – while e-cigs were not risk free, they inflicted only a fraction of the harm caused by smoking.

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