The number of people using e-cigarettes has fallen year-on-year for the first time since 2012, according to figures from charity Action on Smoking Health (ASH).

In its annual survey, carried out by YouGov, ASH found numbers had declined from 3.6 million users in 2019 (7.1% of the UK adult population), to 3.2 million (6.3%) in 2020.

The charity, which supports the use of e-cigarettes, suggested that ‘unfounded concerns’ over the health risks were likely behind the decline, after its survey also found that only 39% of smokers in the UK currently believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking.

It added that the stagnation in numbers was ‘disappointing’ and there had also been little growth in the rate at which smokers use e-cigarettes since 2014.

The 2020 survey found 17.4% of smokers were using an e-cigarette – an almost unchanged figure from 2014, when 17.6% reported current use, ASH said.

It comes as an international review published earlier this week (14 October) by Cochrane found e-cigarettes are 70% more effective than nicotine replacement therapy – including patches, gum, oral strips, lozenges, and nasal spray – at helping smokers kick the habit.

The Cochrane Review also found little evidence of short-term harms from e-cigarettes, ASH said, suggesting that ‘vaping is much less harmful than continuing to smoke’.

‘However, as people are now using products longer term, continued research is needed to understand what, if any, risks there might be in the long term,’ the charity added.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH said: ‘About a third of smokers have never even tried an e-cigarette and less than 20% are currently using one.

‘If many more smokers could be encouraged to give e-cigarettes a go, the latest evidence indicates that many more might successfully quit.’

She added that health professionals have an important role to play, as they can ‘give smokers the confidence to try an e-cigarette’, by providing information on how they can be used to manage cravings and that they are a much safer alternative to smoking.

Earlier this year, ASH reported that over a million people in the UK had stopped smoking during the Covid-19 pandemic.