Vaping has been a subject of much debate for a few years now, as it becomes increasingly popular and more widespread. The field of research around vaping is very new and there are a lot of things, particularly related to long-term vape usage, that we know very little about. However, this has also given rise to a huge amount of misinformation around vaping and the safety of vaping, as well as who are the main users of vapes.
Is Vaping Actually Safe?
While there is a huge amount of information out there around the safety of vaping (some more reliable than others), there are some things that we do know. Vaping has been proven by leading health bodies in the UK, including the NHS and Public Health England to be 95% safer for your health than smoking, and health bodies encourage smokers to quit as soon as possible, citing vaping as a good nicotine replacement therapy.
The percentage of American adults who perceive e-cigarettes as equally harmful to our health as cigarettes has more than tripled in recent years - in 2012 the figure was 11.5% and rose to over 36% in 2017. Even more concerning is the number of smokers who believe that vaping is just as, if not more harmful than smoking - more than half of smokers in the UK. These are the people who could benefit most from switching to vaping as an effective quitting method, and yet widespread misinformation encourages them to continue smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, despite the many well-proven dangers of the habit and the fact that smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the country.
One of the most widespread pieces of “evidence” showing the danger of vaping was the outbreak of lung injury among US vapers in 2019. However, health and law enforcement authorities in the US have confirmed that this was primarily caused by the presence of Vitamin E Acetate in e-liquids, which is banned in the UK and EU. This was also found only in cannabis vaping products, which are more heavily regulated in parts of Europe and remain banned in UK markets. A recent study from Public Health England states that there is a significant portion of smokers who are afraid of switching to e-cigarettes due to concerns around acute lung injuries like the ones seen in the US.
Vaping is almost twice as effective at helping smokers quit when compared to other nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches, lozenges, gum or inhalers, which is why misinformation about e-cigarettes can be so dangerous. Preventing people from quitting smoking is very dangerous to both the health of the individual and those around them, which is why making every effort to combat misinformation is so important.
There is a huge amount of alarming news being put out there, both in the UK and US, about the safety of vaping, but the research from health bodies is clear. The advice from experts remains the same, despite what you might have heard: smokers should switch to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, but non-smokers should not take up vaping.
Who Uses Vapes?
A 2018 study found that of the 10.8 million vapers in the US, the biggest group of users were current smokers taking a combined approach, or those who had recently quit smoking. In the UK, due to decreases in smoking and increases in vaping, there are now almost half as many vapers as there are smokers in the UK, with more than half of vapers who are ex-smokers using e-cigarettes to help them quit.
Vaping in the US vs. the UK
In the UK, the vape market is highly restricted, with more and more vape products being regulated in similar ways to traditional tobacco cigarettes. Manufacturers market solely to existing smokers, and public health bodies such as the NHS and Public Health England (now known as the National Institute for Health Protection or NIHP) are actively encouraging smokers to take up vaping, rather than continuing to smoke. In the US however, there is much more focus in public discourse around young people starting to vape, and the effects that can have on their health and habits in the long term. One study reported that 12% of 16 and 17-year-olds in the US are addicted to nicotine, with the proportion of those who become addicted through vaping, rather than smoking, rising all the time. One brand name appears very regularly in debates around vaping and young people: Juul. Juul is a small and stylish device which uses nicotine salt cartridges in a variety of exciting flavours to give their users a strong and intense nicotine hit without the same sharp throat hit often associated with highly concentrated nicotine levels in e-liquids. Juul, in particular, is popular among young people and teens in the US, however, it is worth noting the e-liquids that Juul use in the US are actually banned in the UK and Europe, as they are considered to be too strong. Juul has been the subject of several lawsuits for targeting young people with their advertising in the US, which the company denies. It’s also important to note that the legal age for purchasing vaping products varies state by state, but is at least 18 nationwide, meaning that young people purchasing vaping devices and e-liquids are more likely to buy from unregulated or black-market suppliers, which is far more dangerous than regulated products.
These differences in the way the two countries approach vaping is an important one to consider, however, misinformation about the safety of vaping is prevalent on both sides of the pond. The bottom line, however, is very clear - vaping is considerably safer than smoking, as well as being a more effective quitting aid than traditional nicotine replacement therapies. If you’re a smoker, you should be looking to quit, and vaping is an excellent aid to help you do so.