Is Vaping Safe?
Is vaping safe. It’s a fair question if you are considering switching from traditional smoking to a vape device. Below we have included as much information as we can to help alleviate any concerns. We have also debunked a few myths along the way.
Key Facts To Remember
- There are more than 4,000 poisons in tobacco smoke.
- There are more than 50 cancer-causing compounds in cigarette smoke.
- Over half of UK smokers attempt to quit annually.
- The NHS is unable to promote e-cigarettes but some local Quit Smoking services have accepted them as a smoking cessation method e.g. Leicestershire.
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy (patches, gums, mouth-sprays) fails for 85% of users.
- Champix (varenicline), a quit smoking drug, has been linked to hallucinations, aggression and suicide (particularly when used with alcohol).
Public Health England Report 2015
An expert independent evidence review published in August 2015 by Public Health England (PHE) concluded that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking.
The key findings of the review:
- The current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking.
- Nearly half the population (44.8%) don’t realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking.
- There is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.
When they decided on their figure of 95% less harmful than smoking, we can be fairly confident that PHE allowed themselves a wide margin for error and yet their best estimate is a whopping 95%- a remarkably high number. PHE would not have published this report unless they were very, very confident of this fact.
Martin Dockrell, Tobacco Control Programme Lead at PHE, said: “We know that e-cigarettes are probably not completely safe, but that’s not the issue. The question is, are e-cigarettes safer than the alternative? And, for almost all e-cigarette users the alternative is smoking and it’s really important that they understand how much safer e-cigarettes are, compared to smoking”.
Each year smoking causes around 46,000 deaths from cancer and 28,000 from respiratory disease in the UK, plus an estimated 20,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease.
“People might be surprised at how much easier it is to quit with an electronic cigarette,” said Dockrell. “Any smoker with a heart condition has almost certainly tried to quit in the past, and failed. Try again with an electronic cigarette because you might find that’s a lot easier.” The Royal College of Physicians has reviewed the available evidence and advises GPs to promote e-cigarettes “as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking”.
It is worrying that even after this ringing endorsement of e-cigs by health experts like PHE, nearly half the population still persist in their belief that e-cigs are as bad, if not worse than tobacco smoking. This has occurred largely because of persistent scaremongering stories in the media, often encouraged by those who have a vested interest in people continuing to smoke. So who are the likely culprits?
- The tobacco industry– who would obviously like people to continue using their products.
- Governments– who benefit from millions of pounds of tax revenue from tobacco.
- The pharmaceutical industry– who sell nicotine patches, gums, lozenges and drugs.
- Public health groups– who are often paid by governments using taxpayers’ money to promote nicotine cessation aids and to lobby against the tobacco industry.
- Some scientists– who have used questionable research methods to show vaping in a bad light. Their research will have often been funded by many of the culprits above.
- Irresponsible journalists– who have a financial incentive to attract readers with sensationalist clickbait articles.
Vaping, like any other disruptive technology, has come under attack from these established interests who are worried that they will lose a lot of money if vaping continues to be successful. All of the organisations that I have listed actually employ people whose salaries depend on creating doubt about the safety of vaping. Let’s just look at some of the more common misconceptions and precautionary claptrap.
Myth 1: Popcorn lung
Popcorn Lung is a name commonly given to the disease bronchiolitis obliterans. It has been linked to exposure to an ingredient that was once used as a flavour additive in the popcorn industry- diacetyl. Diacetyl is banned as an ingredient from e-cigarettes and e-liquids in the UK. It had been detected in some e-liquid flavourings in the past, but even then it was at levels that were hundreds of times lower than in cigarette smoke and not even a single cigarette smoker worldwide has ever contracted this rare disease, let alone a vaper.
Myth 2: “We don’t know what’s in them and they aren’t regulated”
These have always been lazy arguments by e-cig opponents, because a basic internet search would reveal the contents of e-liquid as propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, flavourings and nicotine. In the UK we have some of the strictest regulations for electronic cigarettes in the world. All e-cig products are subject to minimum standards of quality and safety, as well as packaging and labelling requirements to provide consumers with all the information they need to make informed choices. All products must be notified by manufacturers to the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), with detailed information including the listing of all ingredients.
Myth 3: Nicotine
Some four out of 10 smokers wrongly think nicotine causes most of the tobacco smoking-related cancer, when evidence shows nicotine actually carries minimal risk of harm to health. Although nicotine is the reason people become addicted to smoking, it is the thousands of chemicals contained in cigarette smoke that causes almost all of the harm. E-cigarettes do not contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. In any case, nicotine is available on prescription in the form of patches and gums- this would not be the case if it was considered to be a danger to health.
Myth 4: Danger of Second-hand Vapour
Evidence appears to suggest that second-hand smoke is a genuine problem for bystanders and vapour has been tarred with the same brush simply because it looks like smoke. The UK has laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces. These laws do not cover vaping and organisations are free to make their own policies on the use of e-cigarettes on their premises. E-cigarette liquid is typically composed of nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine and flavourings. Unlike cigarettes, there is no side-stream vapour emitted by an e-cigarette into the atmosphere, just the exhaled aerosol. PHE’s latest evidence review found that there are no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders.
Myth 5: Gateway to Smoking
We often hear the argument made by opponents of e-cigarettes that children and young people will experiment with e-cigs, which will then lead them into regular tobacco smoking. They say that e-liquids with soft drink and dessert flavours are targeted at young people, but let’s just examine this argument for a moment. Don’t adults enjoy sweet drinks and foods too? And haven’t some teenagers always experimented with forbidden things? Also- why would anyone switch from a relatively safe and cheap activity to one that is expensive, deadly and foul-tasting? This argument just doesn’t make any sense. In any case, PHE found no evidence to support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people. UK surveys show that young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes, but regular use is rare and confined almost entirely to those who already smoke. Meanwhile, smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to decline. If there is a gateway, it is leading in the opposite direction- away from smoking.
Myth 6: Vaping is a tobacco industry plot to keep people smoking
In fact, the tobacco industry has a lot to fear from the electronic cigarette, a device that is both safer and cheaper. There is currently no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are encouraging people to continue smoking – the picture in the UK suggests the opposite. The proportion of e-cigarette users who are ex-smokers has been increasing over recent years. Of the 2.9 million adult e-cigarette users in the UK, more than half have completely stopped smoking. A further 770,000 have given up both smoking and vaping. At the same time, quit success rates have been improving and we’re seeing an accelerated drop in smoking rates, currently at a record low of 15.5% in England.