Vape pens come in any colour or pattern imaginable and offer a flavour journey as adventurous as Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstopper. Vaping refers to the inhalation of vapour containing nicotine (typically) and flavouring from a vaping device such as an E-cigarette or vape pen. Over the past few years vaping has become increasingly popular all over the world. With users ranging from smokers trying to quit to vape artists finessing their cloud skills. Vaping devices have become just as common as cigarettes and seem to have the potential to take over traditional tobacco, offering a variety of tastes and boasting wide availability, cheaper pricing, and possible lesser health risk.
King’s College London researchers found that “nicotine vaping products were the most popular aid (27.2%) used by smokers trying to quit in England in 2020” and an estimated 50,000 plus smokers stopped smoking with the help of a vaping device. Vaping has seen great results in the number of smokers quitting smoking after transitioning from tobacco to E-liquid, between 59.7% and 74% in 2019 and 2020. Despite the success rate of vaping halting smoking, “38% of smokers in 2020 believed that vaping is as harmful as smoking – 15% believed that vaping is more harmful”.
We all know that when cigarettes were first introduced, the health risks connected with smoking were not yet known. With the first cigarette factory opening in 1856 in England came the smoking trend tidal wave, reaching its highest peak in the 1960s. Doctors prescribed cigarettes and models and actors were encouraged to smoke more and eat less to maintain low body weight. Celebrities adopted smoking into their image, a huge cultural influence being Audrey Hepburn’s front cover of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a black cigarette holder held between her gloved fingers. Just like that, smoking was now fashionable. Cigarettes, the kind you smoked and smoking accessories became a sign of status and wealth. Smoking was classy, cool, and downright harmless. Until word got out that it wasn’t. It took some time for the truth about the damage smoking causes to the body to be revealed, 1964 marking the huge announcement that smoking causes lung cancer.
It could be likely that because of this, there is an increased sense of unease surrounding vaping, in a ‘once burned’ attitude when it comes to smokers. The lack of concern from health professionals about vaping may feel a little too déjà vu for those who already went through the unhappy unveiling of the toxins in paper cigarettes.
The NHS outline the health facts about E-cigarettes that we currently know of:
“In the UK, e-cigarettes are tightly regulated for safety and quality. They’re not completely risk free, but they carry a small fraction of the risk of cigarettes. E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. The liquid and vapour contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.”
It is interesting then, that smokers are largely untrusting of e-cigarette usage despite the now long known and debilitating side effects of smoking tobacco. The deadly three are lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and cardiovascular disease. These health problems all derive from the carbon monoxide inhalation and tar build-up caused by the thousands of toxins present in cigarette smoke. Nicotine, an addictive stimulant, is present in both cigarette and E-cigarette smoke. By using nicotine E-liquid, vape users who are trying to quit smoking satisfy their smoking cravings without intaking the level of toxins found in cigarettes.
The inclusion of nicotine in E-cigarettes may also contribute to the fears of the safety of vaping. Many seem to believe that the nicotine in cigarettes is a cause of these health problems, when in fact the nicotine is the only part of the cigarette that isn’t toxic. It is purely additive. The NHS explain, “While nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, it’s relatively harmless. Nicotine replacement therapy has been widely used for many years to help people stop smoking and is a safe treatment.”
So, you’ve successfully moved on from smoking to vaping, what now? The body is still craving and receiving nicotine, vaping might be less harmful than smoking, but you’re still addicted. It seems that E-cigarettes hold the solution for this also, VapeMate, a UK vaping company write:
“The reason why nicotine is addictive is because it triggers your brain to release dopamine, the ‘feel good’ hormone. Nicotine abuse causes you think that you can only feel good when you are smoking, causing the addiction as your body needs to feel good to feel ‘normal’.”
They explain the use of CBD E-liquids on their website, “CBD vape juice, on the other hand, is said to reverse these feelings and tells your body that you don’t need the nicotine in order to feel normal.” CBD is short for cannabidiol, a chemical that is extracted from the cannabis plant and manufactured to contain legal levels of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis). This way, vaping not only provides smokers with a substitute for cigarettes but also holds the potential to break the inhalation habit completely by switching to CBD E-liquids and emitting nicotine usage altogether.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, admits that “E-cigarettes are a still relatively new product – they aren’t risk-free as we don’t yet know their long-term impact.” However, Mitchell reiterates that “The long-term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown but the long-term harms of tobacco are indisputable.” With cigarette usage declining and vape popularity continuing to climb, it is quite possible that we are currently living during the next societal shift in the progression of cigarette and smoking culture. As for the health implications of vaping, we can hope that history won’t repeat itself this time around.