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To Vape or Not To Vape – Are E-Cigarettes a Miracle or a Menace?

On Sunday the 22nd of May the BBC broadcast a new Horizon documentary during which Michael Mosley explored the world of electronic cigarettes, examining whether or not they are as harmless as some people claim.

Over the course of a month Mosley, who has never smoked a cigarette in his life, used an e-cigarette in an effort to test out the effects of vaping on a healthy volunteer that had no previous underlying issues from smoking. This is a study that, seemingly, has never been done before.

E-cigarettes were invented in China by a pharmacist named Hon Lik, who after six failed attempts to quit smoking and seeing his father die from lung cancer caused by traditional smoking designed and built a device that vapourised a nicotine containing liquid.


Over the next 7 years these vapourisers, dubbed ‘electronic cigarettes’, have grown steady in popularity and now an estimated 2.5 million Britons are avid ‘vapers’.

Vaping has polarised opinion all over the world, with some parties claiming that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as smoking and some heralding them as a revolution in public health that has the potential to save millions of lives that would have been lost due to smoking related illnesses such as lung and mouth cancer as well as emphysema.

Recent research published by Public Health England has estimated that vaping is in fact 95% safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, and presents a negligible risk to the public by way of ‘passive vaping’, that is to say being around people who are vaping will be unlikely to have an effect, negative or otherwise, on non-vapers.

The research  states: “side-stream smoke (ie the smoke from the lighted end of the cigarette, which is produced regardless of whether the smoker is puffing or not) accounts for some 85% of passive smoking and there is no side-stream EC (e-cigarette) vapour…”

Interestingly enough the research also included a study in which passive vaping was scientifically monitored for levels of passive nicotine:

“The nicotine levels absorbed via passive vaping were negligible… Partners of vapers had mean cotinine concentrations of 0.19 ng/ml in saliva and 1.75 ng/ml in urine, which is about 1,000 times less than the concentrations seen in smokers and similar to levels generated by eating a tomato.”

E-cigarettes are also being lauded for their potential to help smokers kick the habit. Studies suggest that just 4% of smokers attempting to quit do so without any aid, the ‘cold-turkey’ approach.

26 volunteers took part in the BBC’s Horizon study, all of whom were at least 20-a-day smokers. They were divided into four groups, a control group that continued smoking, a group that quit smoking cold-turkey, a group using NRT (nicotine replacement therapy, i.e. patches), and a group using e-cigarettes as a means of quitting.

The results were interesting…

    • Two of the seven cold-turkey group succeeded in not smoking over a four week period.

    • Seven out of the eight volunteers in the NRT group were able to avoid smoking over the same period

  • Seven out of the eight volunteers in the e-cigarette group were also able to avoid smoking.

The results of this experiment suggest that e-cigarettes are as effective as currently available NRT treatments at helping smokers to quit.

Dr. David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, has called e-cigarettes a “very effective route out of smoking” and with a marketplace filled with Starter Kits like the TABlites Cyclone V4 that contain everything you need to move into the world of vaping, it’s never been easier to take advantage.

During his month of vaping, Mosley showed a very slight increase of nitric oxide in his system, which is a marker for airway inflammation, and an increase in the defence cells that line the airways of the lungs to protect them from foreign bodies.

Despite this he concluded that the possible side effects are ‘piddling’ compared to the benefits, stating “Clearly, if you’re not a smoker then taking up vaping is a stupid thing to do, but if I was a smoker then I would certainly give it a go, despite the uncertainty.”

The Royal College of Physicians published a paper at the end of April that seems to agree. In a move that shows the medical establishment beginning to back e-cigarettes as a benefit, the paper stated “Provision of the nicotine that smokers are addicted to without the harmful components of tobacco smoke can prevent most of the harm from smoking”.

Mosley concluded “I’m genuinely surprised by the fact that there’s still controversy around them, I think vaping has the potential to make a huge difference. If it even converts a small number then you are potentially talking about tens of millions of lives.”

Do you think e-cigarettes are a miracle or a menace?
Would you recommend vaping to a friend or a family member?

Let us know in the comments below.

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