THE choice between cigarettes and vaping has been compared to a choice between sharks and ‘man-eating piranhas’.

Nearly a fifth of over-18s in South Tyneside were reported as smokers in the most recent government figures.

But despite official guidance from national health bosses recommending e-cigarettes as an alternative to help people quit, one town hall chief has dismissed the advice.

“I’m not happy with the statement that smokers would be better off vaping after you pooh-poohed the idea of [vaping causing] deaths in America,” Coun James Foreman told one of South Tyneside Council’s (STC) public health experts.

“I think the jury is still out, it’s like there’s two pools, one filled with sharks and one with man-eating piranhas – you haven’t got a chance with the sharks, so you take the piranhas, but they’re both wrong because there’s still a chance of dying.”

He added: “To me, one death is too many and if people are dying vaping why are we saying ‘you could be the unlucky one?’”

Coun Foreman was speaking at this morning’s meeting of STC’s People Select Committee.

Smoking in South Tyneside cost the NHS £7.8million in 2018, with £3.1million of that due to more than 2,400 hospital admissions for smoking-related conditions,

Stephen Carter, a Senior Public Health Advanced Practitioner at the council, told the panel the guidance on e-cigarettes and vaping was promoted by ‘a number of professional bodies’.

He said: “If you stop smoking tobacco and move to e-cigarettes the evidence base, which is still emerging, prominent researchers agree the risks are far less than if the individual continued smoking tobacco.”

He added: “The number of deaths could be far higher if we cannot support people to move on to a less dangerous product.”

Coun Geraldine Kilgour said: “What we’re looking at is people vaping who already smoke and that being the preferred option for them.

“But the position is not that if you don’t smoke start vaping – more young people don’t smoke but they vape first instead and this has happened for three or four years now.”