Vaping, or using e-cigarettes, carries only a fraction of the health risk of tobacco smoking and yet new data from ASH UK has shown that many people still think that e-cigarettes are just as dangerous (or even more dangerous) as smoking. I regularly talk to tobacco smokers about e-cigs (usually outside the pub). Although I make a point of never nagging them, I will always encourage them to try vaping. Talking to smokers, they always tend to give the same reasons for not wanting to even try vaping and more often than not it is the many misleading media stories about e-cigs that have discouraged them.
Change can be hard and for many people the idea of a life without cigarettes might seem as awful as a life without food or sleep- that’s why it’s so difficult to stop smoking. What’s important to remember though is that you don’t even need to switch completely to vaping; many smokers become dual users of both e-cigs and tobacco- at the end of the day, it’s the cigarettes you DONT smoke that count. I have made a list of the most common things that people tell me, followed by my answers to each of them.
I won’t try vaping because I’ve heard that it’s worse for you than smoking.
There is now a lot of research that has been done on electronic cigarettes. In 2015, Public Health England published their findings which state that vaping carries 95% less risk than smoking. The two main ingredients in tobacco which cause health problems and premature death are tar and carbon monoxide – neither of these things are in e-cig vapour.
No- I read about it in the papers- vaping is definitely bad for you.
There have been a lot of misleading studies which some newspapers have published along with sensationalist headlines. When you look deeper into them it turns out that the media have twisted the facts and have often got things wrong. E-cigarettes are definitely much safer than smoking and it is best to look for accurate information from trusted sources like the NHS website.
OK then- so why do the newspapers publish these stories if they’re not true?
Simply because they will do anything to sell newspapers, and there’s nothing that helps them do this more than a big sensational headline. Let’s be honest- the newspaper editors need to do something to make people buy pieces of paper with ink on. It helps to feed people’s prejudices that anything that is associated with smoking is bound to be bad for you. People often think it’s the nicotine in tobacco that’s the problem when we know it’s not nicotine – it’s the tar and carbon monoxide.
But we don’t know what’s in them, do we?
Yes we do and there are actually very few ingredients in e-liquid compared to all the dangerous chemicals that are contained in cigarette smoke. 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.
Yes, but what about all that formaldehyde in e-cigs?
This actually came from a news report on a study where the liquid in the e-cigarette was heated to such a high temperature that it actually damaged the liquid. No vaper would be able to use it this way because it would taste horrible and burnt. Since then, that study has been completely discredited. Unfortunately, a lot of people have read that piece and probably gone back to smoking, which will do far more damage to their health.
OK then- so what about vaping giving you popcorn lung?
That was yet another story where the truth was distorted by irresponsible journalists. 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. As a result of stories like this, smokers have increasingly taken a “better the devil you know” approach and mistakenly stuck with tobacco.
What about all the stories about vaping being bad for your heart?
These stories were based on comments made at a cardiology conference by a Greek doctor, Charalambos Vlachopoulos. He conducted a study that looked at the effect of vaping on blood pressure and blood vessels. The study found that e-cigarettes cause arterial stiffness which is hardly surprising since nicotine does temporarily raise blood pressure. So does drinking coffee, taking an exam and watching football. That does not mean that caffeine and the World Cup are as bad as smoking. Nor did Dr Vlachopoulos actually claim that vaping is as bad as smoking. The Sun quoted him saying: “E-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes but they are not harmless.” No serious researcher has ever claimed that they are harmless. That is why we talk about harm reduction, not harm elimination.
Few things in life are 100 per cent safe and even nicotine patches only reduce the harm because yes, they too raise blood pressure and cause temporary arterial stiffness. Because vaping delivers less nicotine than smoking, participants in the study had to vape for 30 minutes to match 5 minutes of tobacco smoking. Smoking has been to shown to dramatically increase your heart rate and lead to a massively increased risk of heart disease. Your heart is far better off with an e-cig!
Yes, but you’re still addicted and you’re still smoking aren’t you?
Yes, it’s true that most vapers are still addicted to nicotine in the same way as you would be if you were using patches or gum to help you give up smoking. Some vapers start off using e-liquid that is fairly strong in nicotine, but they then wean themselves off this by gradually dropping down the strength of their e-liquid. Vaping itself is not as addictive as smoking and many vapers use zero nicotine e-liquid because they simply enjoy the vaping experience on its own.
Some people decide that they want to carry on using e-cigarettes for the longer term, which is fine, as they are a lot safer than smoking. Secondly, by using an e-cigarette you definitely would not still be smoking. Vaping looks and feels quite like smoking, which is why it is so successful in helping people to quit. The important thing is what’s in them- people get ill and often die from disease caused by the tar and carbon monoxide in tobacco, not the nicotine. E-cigs have the nicotine but none of the dangerous stuff.
I’ve seen people using vapes and they look silly!
I’m sure that the 3 million people who have successfully switched to vaping from smoking don’t really care what they look like- they have switched from a deadly habit to one that is much safer and they will probably enjoy a much longer life as a result. Have a look around next time you are in town, vaping is everywhere and nobody is bothered- it has become quite commonplace. What you look like is the least of your concerns when it comes to your health.
If you’re inhaling vapour all day, won’t your lungs fill up with water?
Your lungs also absorb water vapour when you take a shower or go for a walk on a foggy day. Your lungs get rid of part of that water vapour immediately when you breathe and the rest of it is absorbed into your body naturally. Your body gets rid of excess water all the time through your skin when you sweat, your lungs when you breathe and of course when you go to the toilet for a pee- it certainly does not build up in your lungs.
I keep hearing that we don’t know enough about the safety of e-cigs yet- isn’t this true?
We do know a lot about e-cigs, for example we know that when we compare them to tobacco cigarettes, there are very few ingredients in e-cigs and none of them are new- they are all ingredients which have been around for a long time and are tested to be safer for us than the many poisonous ingredients in cigarettes.
But what about the long term? It took many years before scientists discovered that smoking can kill you- the same thing could happen with e-cigs couldn’t it?
It’s true that we can’t know about the long term effects of vaping for a few more years, but we already understand enough about the ingredients of e-cigs for experts to confidently say that there is a very low risk of problems developing in the future. Remember that experts are telling us that e-cigs are likely to be 95% less harmful than tobacco- they would not tell us this if they were in any doubt over it.
I once tried a vape and it made me cough so much that I didn’t want to try it again.
At first, anything new will irritate your lungs and will make you cough- you probably also coughed a lot the first time you smoked a tobacco cigarette? It is because vapour is slightly different from normal tobacco smoke and your throat is not used to it. Most people seem to get used to it after a day or two and are fine with it. It is important that you give it a chance.
My mate uses his vape a lot more than when he used to smoke- isn’t he more addicted now?
This is because vaping is not as effective at getting nicotine into your body as smoking a cigarette is- most people do find that they need to puff on their vape a bit more to get the same effect. Also the way people vape is a lot different from smoking- many vapers just need a couple of puffs to satisfy their cravings. Smokers need to actually stop what they are doing and go outside to smoke a whole cigarette, but vapers find that they are able to treat a vape just like having a cup of coffee- you don’t have to drink it all in one go, you usually just sip at it. It’s the same with vaping- just a few puffs every now and again is usually enough to satisfy most people. It’s also worth trying different strength liquids to find the one which is right for you.