It’s been almost six years since a public smoking ban was introduced across the UK. Although efforts to curb smoking through nicotine-replacement products and bans in certain areas have been successful, many people are still addicted to smoking. As many as 114,000 people die each year at an estimated cost of £2.7 billion to the National Health Service (NHS), according to The Guardian. Now, with as many as one million smokers across the UK having tried e-cigarettes, health care officials are wondering just how safe they really are.

E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that look like cigarettes. They heat nicotine in disposable cartridges in order to produce a vapor that the smoker inhales. They come in different flavors as well as various nicotine levels, and the manufacturers claim that the vapor exhaled from the person’s mouth isn’t harmful to anyone else who may be around. They are also supposed to be a safe alternative because they only contain nicotine and none of the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes.

“We have such a massive opportunity here,” Robert West, director of tobacco studies at the University College London, told The Guardian. “It would be a shame to let it slip away by being overly cautious. E-cigarettes are about as safe as you can get.”

“Nicotine is not what kills you when you smoke tobacco,” he continued. “E-cigarettes are probably about as safe as drinking coffee. All they contain is water vapor, nicotine, and propylene glycol,” which is used to help vaporize the liquid nicotine.

On Wednesday, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) will publish guidance on “new approaches to help reduce the harm from smoking tobacco.” Many people expect the subject of e-cigarettes to appear in it.

 “We could see the end of tobacco use in the UK within five to 10 years if e-cigarettes are allowed to flourish,” West said. “Why would smokers continue to kill themselves if they could use e-cigarettes? Smoking is so last century.”

It’s not only in the UK that e-cigarettes are expected to flourish either.

Wells Fargo securities has reported many times that the e-cigarette market will overtake traditional cigarettes within a decade, according to Forbes. With the rate of cigarette smoking declining, American tobacco companies have also invested in e-cigarettes — most recently Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA.

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