Is Vaping Harming the ‘Quit Smoking’ Message?
E-cigarettes and other “vaping” devices have really taken off in the last decade. However, these devices have a history dating back to the 1960s, when an American inventor patented a smokeless nicotine delivery system. This version of the e-cigarette never reached consumers and it wasn’t until 2006 that electronic cigarettes were launched in the European market. Using e-cigarettes, or “vaping”, as it is commonly known, is advertised as the healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes but how many health benefits does vaping have and how should health professionals manage the anti-smoking message at the same time as the growth in the popularity of e-cigarettes?
How many smokers and vapers are there?
Governments around the world collect statistics on the numbers of tobacco smokers in their countries and these numbers vary hugely. The world’s biggest smokers are in Eastern Europe, with the average adult in Montenegro or Belarus getting through over 4,000 cigarettes a year. At the other end of the scale are the Pacific island states of Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands where the average consumption is fewer than 30 cigarettes per year. In some parts of the world vaping is growing in popularity as tobacco sales decline, with statistics showing that 9 million US adults are vaping regularly and only a tiny percentage of these were previously non-smokers. In Europe, the British have embraced the e-cigarette and the UK is now the second largest market in the world. When it comes to the traditional cigarette, the biggest market by far is China, where the tobacco market is worth $150 billion.
Educating on the Anti-Smoking Message
There has been extensive research into the health implications of smoking and many cigarette and tobacco packets carry strong messages about how the habit can damage the body. The numbers are stark: if you smoke, you’re 2 to 4 times more likely to die of coronary heart disease or stroke, 25 times more likely to get lung cancer, an increased risk of a wide range of other cancers, and 12 times more likely to die from the lung disease COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Abstract figures can be very hard to relate to an individual’s experience though, especially when talking to a younger audience. Statistics and risk factors can only tell part of the story – allowing people to see the way in which tar collects in the lungs or how it can affect the mouth or tongue make for a much harder hitting educational campaign.
Health Effects of E-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes and vaping are regularly marketed as the safer alternative to cigarette or tobacco smoking and it’s certainly true that, when you’re inhaling vapour, you’re not inhaling the tar and other carcinogens associated with smoke. It’s important to remember though that vaping has only been around for a decade and there is not the same body of scientific evidence to prove its safety as there is to show the harmful effects of smoking. Recent studies have linked vaping – especially in younger people – to sores in the mouth caused by inflammation, gum disease, coughs and bronchitis. Research is also ongoing into the levels of toxic metals found in the liquids used in vaping and how they react when heated in the e-cigarette device. Whatever the flavour of liquid and type of e-cigarette, the common ingredient Is nicotine and the health implications of long-term nicotine use are unknown, given that e-cigarettes have only been on the market for a decade.
Healthy Living Messages
Governments around the world are clear on one key point: that e-cigarettes should be advertised and sold as a replacement for the more harmful traditional tobacco products and not as something which should be pitched at people who have never previously smoked. The messages about the very real risks of smoking should not be allowed to get lost amid the debate on the health risks, or otherwise, of vaping and although vaping is growing in popularity, it is still far less popular than other types of tobacco smoking. The healthcare approach has to be two-pronged; encouraging current smokers to cut down their consumption, give up completely or wean themselves off nicotine using e-cigarette substitutes while also getting across the message about the risks of tobacco smoking with an aim of decreasing the number of people taking up smoking in the first place.