WHAT IS VAPING?
The Oxford English Dictionary caused a bit of a fuss when it named “vaping” as its 2014 word of the year.
New words don’t usually get people excited – this is the age of the internet, twerking and selfies, after all – but vaping is a controversial subject.
Just about every week some newspaper runs a front-page article about how dangerous it is.
This is unfortunate, because although about three million people in the UK now vape it’s still a mystery to most of the rest.
So, what exactly is vaping?
Basically it’s a substitute for smoking. Instead of inhaling the smoke from burning tobacco, vapers inhale a flavoured mist from an electronic cigarette.
An electronic cigarette is a small device that has a battery, a heating coil, a tank full of liquid and a mouthpiece.
When you press the button to activate it the coil heats up and vaporises some of the liquid from the tank. The vaper then inhales it through the mouthpiece.
Here’s what vaping isn’t: Smoking.
Someone who vapes isn’t “still smoking” because they’re still using nicotine. Is someone who chews Nicorette gum still smoking? No, they’re not.
Smoking means inhaling smoke, and if you vape you aren’t doing that.
What comes out the mouthpiece might look like smoke, but it isn’t; nothing is burning.
Instead it’s vapour and tiny droplets of four ingredients: Propylene glycol (a food additive), glycerine (another food additive), flavouring and nicotine.
WHY DO PEOPLE VAPE?
There are lots of reasons why people decide to vape.
The most common is that they smoke, and want to quit. You can learn more about how you can quit smoking with electronic cigarettes here.
Although it isn’t an approved stop smoking medicine like nicotine patches or gum, many smokers find that vaping is a big help.
Almost half of the vapers in the UK have completely stopped smoking since they began using an e-cigarette.
Some vapers had already quit smoking using another method, but missed the experience. For these people, vaping lets them enjoy a similar experience but without the negative effects.
Before e-cigarettes appeared a lot of smokers managed to quit, but then started again – sometimes years later. Now they have an alternative.
But how did vaping come about?
A LITTLE VAPING HISTORY
The first electronic cigarette was designed in 1963 by an American, Herbert A Gilbert. His design was quite similar to modern ones, but the prototypes he made never went on sale.
One problem was the technology; at the time, batteries didn’t hold enough power to make it very practical.
A bigger problem was that smoking was a lot more socially acceptable, and people weren’t as interested in an alternative.
Then, in 2001, a Chinese pharmacist called Hon Lik started working on a similar idea.
Hon was a heavy smoker whose father had recently died of lung cancer, and he was in the process of quitting. But he decided that it would also be useful to have an alternative.
First he tried to use ultrasound to turn a liquid into vapour, but that didn’t work very well. Next he tried a design similar to Herbert Gilbert’s, which was much more successful.
In 2003 he patented his design, and the next year the first e-cigarettes went on sale in China.
At first electronic cigarettes looked pretty much like a real cigarette – small white tubes, with an atomiser and liquid cartridge where the filter would be.
Those are the ones that started to be imported into Europe in 2006, and the USA in 2007 and are more commonly known as cig-a-likes.
Updated versions are still popular now, but not everyone was happy with them.
Soon a British vaper did something radical and modified a torch, replacing the LED with a screw fitting that would hold the atomiser from a standard e-cigarette.
The much larger torch battery delivered more power – and vapour – and lasted a lot longer, too. Then someone else designed a refillable tank that held more liquid than the little plastic cartridges.
Before long a whole new industry had started to develop.
Today e-cigarettes come in all shapes and sizes, with some very sophisticated electronics to make them safer and more satisfying to use.
They have received a lot of scrutiny in the media as being ‘unsafe’, but they’re actually a lot safer than you might have been led to believe…
IS VAPING SAFE?
This is the big question, and it’s what the media usually want to talk about.
More accurately, what the media want to talk about is the latest study claiming that vaping’s at least as bad for you as smoking.
The truth is a bit different.
If you’re a scientist who wants to get a paper published it’s easy to design an experiment that will make anything look dangerous, and that’s what’s been happening with vaping.
To get a more accurate picture you need to look at all the evidence; the problem is that’s a big job, and most people don’t have the time or expertise to do it.
Luckily we don’t have to.
Last year Public Health England, who’re responsible for health policy in the NHS, carried out the largest study that’s ever been done on vaping.
They found that, based on all the research that’s been done so far, it’s at least 95% safer than smoking. Another large study, by the Royal College of Physicians, got exactly the same result.
So vaping probably isn’t completely safe, but that needs to be put in context. Nothing is completely safe.
Professor Peter Hajek, one of Britain’s leading experts on smoking and health, says vaping is about as dangerous as drinking coffee – in other words, not very.
The important thing here is that almost all vapers – over 99% – either smoke or used to.
The question that matters isn’t “Is vaping safe?” It’s “Is vaping safer than smoking?” The answer to that is a very definite yes.
Smoking isn’t dangerous because of nicotine. In fact nicotine, on its own, is as safe as caffeine. The danger from cigarette smoke comes from the smoke itself – burning things creates toxic substances.
Tar from burned tobacco can cause cancer; carbon monoxide damages the heart and arteries.
The vapour from an e-cigarette doesn’t involve burning, so it doesn’t contain these hazards.
VAPING VS SMOKING
If you’re considering vaping, there are two things you should compare it to.
One is smoking; the other is alternative ways to quit smoking, like nicotine patches or gum.
E-cigarettes were designed as an alternative to smoking, but they’ve gone well beyond that now.
A cigarette is basically just a paper tube full of shredded tobacco leaves. It’s old technology. E-cigs are new technology – so they’re much better.
Here are the main advantages:
- It’s safer. If you switch from smoking to vaping, you eliminate at least 95% of the risk to your health.
- It’s cheaper. Even vaping disposable e-cigs, you’ll spend half as much as you did on cigarettes. Get a more advanced vaporizer and that will fall to a quarter or less.
- It tastes better. Tobacco smoke has a harsh, burned taste. With vaping you have a choice of thousands of flavours – fruit, sweets, cake and much more.
- It’s more acceptable. You’re not allowed to vape everywhere, but it’s a lot less restricted than smoking. Many pubs are vape-friendly, for example.
VAPING VS MEDICATION
There are lots of products and drugs designed to help people quit smoking. The problem is most of them don’t work very well.
The most effective is Champix, but that’s been linked to mental health problems, suicide and heart disease (vaping hasn’t).
How about the ones you can buy at the chemist’s?
- Cheaper – again. A refillable e-cigarette will cost you a lot less every month than patches or gum.
- More familiar. Smoking isn’t just about inhaling nicotine. You’re used to having something to do with your hands, and the familiar hand to mouth action. Vaping has all that.
- More successful. The scientific evidence shows that if you buy an e-cigarette you’re about 60% more likely to quit smoking than if you buy patches or gum over the counter.
- More enjoyable. Yes, quitting smoking isn’t supposed to be enjoyable – but now it can be.
What do you think about vaping? Do you think vaping should be allowed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…