Vaping and e-cigarettes: the facts

Medical Director, UK Insurance at Bupa UK
08 March 2017

Vaping (using e-cigarettes) has become more popular than ever over the last few years. Chances are, even if you’ve never tried it yourself, you may know someone who vapes. Many people use e-cigarettes as an aid to stop smoking – but are they really any safer than conventional cigarettes? There’s a lot of uncertainties and misinformation out there about vaping. So as it’s National No Smoking day today, I thought it was an ideal time to take a closer look at these devices.

Someone using an e-cigarette

What are e-cigarettes and vapourisers?

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or vapourisers, are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine in a vapour (steam) rather than smoke. Older versions looked more like a conventional cigarette, and were either disposable or used replaceable pre-filled cartridges. These days, most people use a device that consists of a ‘tank’ that you fill with liquid nicotine – often in a range of different flavours and strengths.

Is vaping better for you than smoking?

It’s estimated that vaping is around ninety-five per cent safer than smoking cigarettes. Although nicotine is addictive, it’s the combustion of tobacco in conventional cigarettes and the by-products formed, that cause the most harm associated with smoking. Of course, not smoking or using nicotine products at all is the best thing you can do. But we know that’s easier said than done for many people. So for people who are unable or unwilling to stop using nicotine, e-cigarettes are by far the safest option.

Can vaping help me quit smoking?

Yes. Helping to stop smoking is the most common reason that people vape. In fact, e-cigarettes have now overtaken nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as the most common aid to help people stop smoking. As well as helping people to quit completely, e-cigarettes can help users to cut down the amount they smoke. One reason e-cigarettes are so popular as a quitting aid is the similar sensory experience you may get from them as you do from cigarettes. You hold them with your hand, put them to your mouth and inhale them in the same way as you would a cigarette. The familiarity with these actions can mean you’re less likely to have cravings and withdrawal symptoms than if you used another form of stop smoking aid.

As you can adjust the nicotine strength you use in e-cigarettes, you can gradually wean yourself off using them altogether.

Are there any risks of vaping?

You may notice some short-term effects when you start vaping – such as irritation to your mouth and throat. As e-cigarettes haven’t been around for very long, no-one can say for sure what the long-term effects may be. What we can say is from what we know about the chemicals in e-cigarettes, they’re likely to be much less harmful than cigarettes. Most of the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke aren’t present in e-cigarettes. And the chemicals that they do contain, pose little danger.

While e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they seem to be far less addictive than cigarettes.

How are e-cigarettes regulated?

Since May 2016, e-cigarettes have to conform to new safety standards in the UK, under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.This rules which ingredients can be used in the products and also the size of the liquid tanks and refills. The safety and quality of the products are now tightly controlled. If you’re planning to give e-cigarettes a try, make sure you buy regulated products that follow the safety standards.

So there you have it. If you smoke, and you’re struggling to give up, my advice is that it’s definitely worth giving e-cigarettes a go. Cutting out the tobacco will always have a benefit to your health.

Dr Luke James
Medical Director, UK Insurance at Bupa UK

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