Argue it all you want, but the statistics are fairly clear: e-cigarettes have achieved more than any other smoking reduction strategy in the history of tobacco. Better than gum, better than patches, better than cold turkey.
That much was confirmed by the announcement in August from Public Health England, which stated that experts believe vaping is 95% less harmful than tobacco, and could be a ‘game changer’ for persuading smokers to quit for good.
They added that there is no evidence that vaping is a gateway into smoking; surely a clear response to Welsh health minister Mark Drakeford, who has ambitious plans to ban smoking from all public spaces in the principality.
Meanwhile, actual concrete evidence which takes into account mortality, morbidity and economic costs, shows that, comparing the relative harms of nicotine products, cigarettes are more than 30 times more damaging than e-cigarettes.
Even ignoring these severe factors, anecdotal evidence strongly supports the thought that vaping boosts a person’s wellbeing. Accounts from vapers in this Guardian article, for example, tells us that they feel healthier, and that they smoke in company without offending people. They generally feel better in themselves, their lungs feel less tight and worn, and even their doctors have confirmed the positive effects.
Anecdotal evidence is strong in the vaping conversation, because the long-term research is just not there yet. Large international studies exist with startling conclusions; for example, one analysis of swapping tobacco for e-cigarettes found that 92% reported reductions in their smoking when using e-cigarettes, and only 10% reported that they felt an urge to smoke tobacco again.
Yes, there are chemicals involved in the process; no-one is naïve enough to think otherwise. But what do we really know about these chemicals? Do we know the long-term effects of substances in the flavourings and bases? For example, some manufacturers use diacetyl, which has been linked to a deadly lung condition known as popcorn lung, so called because of an incident where workers at a microwave popcorn factory suffered irreversible damage after exposure. Meanwhile another option, Propylene glycol has been approved by the FDA to be used by e liquid manufacturers, and is so harmless that it is used in the theatre industry to generate fog.
So why do both occur in e-cigarettes, and what can be done about it? A government-administered quality control is the answer, and correct licensing. We’re heading down that track already as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency began looking at pilot schemes to offer free cigarette starter kits. Licensing is one half of the answer – the other is long term studies akin to those carried out on the effects of tobacco.
Around 2.6 million adults are now e-cigarette users, representing a rise of 500,000 in just a year. Many people simply don’t know about vaping; what it is, how it works, how much it costs, and so on.
That headline figure of 95% is encouraging, but still leaves room for doubt and damage. MedicalDaily.com recently created a video to illustrate the point that vaping is drifting in the right direction, but nothing can be 100% safe. It’s not a black and white issue – more grey, like smoke.
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