A few years ago, 37-year-old Alex Hollick, a user experience designer, was convinced by his mother to kick his tobacco addiction by switching to e-cigarettes.
For a few weeks, Mr. Hollick would use his electronic device to heat a nicotine-containing liquid into an inhalable vapour, around 20 times per day. He felt less guilty and found himself breathing better, but it wasn’t satisfying enough and gave him a sore throat.
After weighing the pros and cons of vaping, though, Mr. Hollick is now thinking to give it another go. “Smoking costs a lot of money in the U.K., and I did feel healthier [vaping],” he admitted. “I tried nicotine gum a few years back but only lasted two or three days. Vaping is probably closer to smoking than anything else, so I want to give it another go, maybe try another mixture.”
While e-cigarettes are marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes, they have been recently banned in New York from public indoor spaces – where tobacco is already prohibited. Major manufacturer Njoy went bankrupt last year, casting a dark cloud over the industry. The American government is sending out the message that Vaping is dangerous.
But England is taking a diametrically opposed position. A team of researchers at the British Psychological Society (BPS) have recently pointed out in a report that Vaping, along with education, is a key to cut smoking – one of country’s largest causes of preventable deaths. And they want to boost its popularity.
“We noted that traditional methods just don’t work very well,” Dr. Lynne Dawkins, one of the researchers behind the report, told The Globe Post. “Researchers and health professionals agree that vaping is less harmful, and that cigarette smoking is the worst thing you could possibly do.”
Most smokers want to quit and a third make an attempt every year, according to the report co-authored by Dr. Dawkins. Quitting smoking all together would of course be more beneficial to health, but abrupt quitting is “extremely difficult” for some users, according to the researchers.
Smoking is responsible for 96,000 deaths per year in the U.K., and the British Psychological Society (BPS) points out that if the current trend continues, 1 billion lives will be lost by the end of the 21st century. The report also states that e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a less harmful way, without the tar and chemicals added to tobacco, which cause cancer. While around 26 percent of people in the U.K. believe that e-cigarettes are just as harmful, or even more harmful, than cigarettes, the Royal College of Physicians has pointed out that e-cigarettes are actually 95 percent less dangerous.
Evidence is mixed. Researchers from the University of North Carolina noted that e-cigarettes could be just as dangerous as tobacco, though they did point out that most of the e-cigarette smokers in their study had formerly been cigarette smokers.
More research is needed, but the BPS said that taking into account current evidence, there was no doubt that smokers switching to vaping were doing their health a favour.
For more people to start using e-cigarettes though, the BPS report points out that they should be made more attractive and easier to use. E-cigarettes have to be charged, replaced and refilled and users need information on how to use them.
They are also not as satisfying, with 30 to 60 percent of e-cigarette users, known as “dual smokers” continuing to smoke cigarettes. Developing e-cigarettes and allowing them to have a higher nicotine concentration would therefore help cigarette users to make this transition, the researchers pointed out.
Another recommendation from the BPS report was that vaping should be less expensive than tobacco and should not be included in national smoke-free policies.
“Banning smoking in public places is based on the known harms to bystanders and these harms have not been demonstrated with electronic cigarettes,” Dr. Dawkins said. “More restrictions on vaping means fewer opportunities to use. Smokers thinking of switching to e-cigarettes may then think ‘I might as well smoke’.”
While British experts admit to having been skeptical of e-cigarettes at an early stage, e-cigarettes have become the most popular method to quit and have convinced them that in fact, they are helping save lives.
But England’s harm-reduction policy experiment, which could be equivalent to giving needles and methadone to drug users, has stunned some American experts, who are tend to an all-or-nothing approach and are especially concerned that e-cigarettes are a new source of addiction for young people.
“The laws are in place to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air, without harmful chemicals,” Vince Willmore, from the U.S. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The Globe Post. “It is appropriate to include e-cigarettes because e-cigarette emissions can contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals. No one should be treated like guinea pigs while we learn about the effects of exposure to e-cigarette emissions.”
And “it is not enough to say that e-cigarettes are safer [than regular cigarettes]. The question is whether they are effective at helping smokers quit completely,” Mr. Willmore said.
Mr. Willmore added that there was mixed evidence as to whether e-cigarettes were effective in helping smokers quit, and that regulation was key to assessing that evidence and also preventing a new generation being hooked on to what he said young people perceive as “the new cool thing.”
“All flavoured e-cigarettes should be prohibited, unless the manufacturer proves that they are productive and effective in helping smokers quit,” Mr. Willmore said.
E-cigarettes are the most used tobacco product in the U.S. among young people and the soaring number of young people using e-cigarettes is now a major source of concern, with a report by the United States Surgeon General pointing out that they can harm the brains of teenagers and also negatively affect people around the user.
“These products are marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, but the reality is they also carry long-term risks to the health of users and those around them,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who last Monday signed the law to ban e-cigarettes in New York where tobacco is already prohibited, said in a statement. “This measure closes another dangerous loophole in the law, creating a stronger, healthier New York for all.”