Are Misguided Beliefs About Vaping Killing Smokers?

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There are currently about 2.8 million vapers in the UK. That’s a huge increase from 2012 when there were only about 700,000 people using e-cigarettes. On the other hand, there are still nearly 10 million smokers, which is more than three times as many as vapers. Whilst smoking prevalence continues to decrease – perhaps attributed to e-cigarettes – a large number of smokers are still reluctant to switch or even try vaping, allegedly because they are concerned about e-cigarettes’ health implications, safety, cost, weight gain and other factors.

So a question arises, is there any rationale for smokers’ reluctance to try e-cigarettes? Or are tens of thousands of smokers still dying in the UK for no reason other than being misguided and misinformed? Our investigation of the issue suggests it’s the latter.

 

The (Un) Healthy Rationale Not Holding Water

Our own investigation as well as that conducted by the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found that concerns about health implications are the most commonly cited reason for refusing to try e-cigarettes among smokers. These concerns are not completely unjustified as e-cigarettes are relatively new and more research is necessary to determine their effect on health; especially in the long term.

However, despite their short lifespan, e-cigarettes have already been proven as a less harmful alternative to their tobacco-containing counterpart. According to the Public Health England (PHE), vaping is 95% safer than smoking which has been shown to be the leading cause of a number of cancers; most notably of the lung, mouth and throat as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and many other equally deadly diseases.

Even if e-cigarettes are not entirely risk-free, the (un) healthy rationale clearly doesn’t hold water. What is more, over one half of the 509 vapers who responded to our survey reported positive health changes since switching to vaping, including better sleep, a change of eating habits, whiter teeth and reduced shortness of breath. Smokers citing health considerations as the main reason for refusing to try e-cigarettes thus clearly don’t have all the information – or rather, they have been misled by popular belief by the media that e-cigarettes are just as bad as cigarettes.

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Other Irrational Health and Safety Concerns

In addition to being concerned about health implications of e-cigarettes, a large portion of smokers also express concerns about other health and safety related issues. These include poisoning from ingesting eJuice and the risk of fire and battery explosions. Largely fuelled by sensational media reports, these concerns are not exactly without basis. Yes, e-liquid is toxic if ingested, and just like other electronic devices that contain lithium batteries (such as mobile phones), e-cigarettes pose a risk of fire and even explosion. But a large number of reports of incidents involving e-cigarettes are either heavily exaggerated or don’t show the whole picture.

During 2013/14, the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) recorded around 56,000 telephone enquiries. Only 204 were related to electronic cigarettes and their liquid content, with the majority being classified as no or mild toxicity. We don’t have impartial data for the number of battery explosions involving e-cigarettes but according to the PHE report, the risk is no greater than the risk posed by other domestic electrical products when used responsibly and in line with the manufacturer’s safety guidelines. The very same report also reveals that between April 2013 and March 2014, cigarettes, cigars and other smokers’ materials were responsible for 2,360 fires in the UK. In contrast, e-cigarettes caused only 105 fires in a two-year period.

Just like concerns about the effects of e-cigarette use on health, concerns about poisoning, fire and battery explosions don’t really qualify as a sound argument. When comparing the actual risk of injury or death to the risks of other common everyday products – and in particular regular cigarettes, the fear of e-cigarettes is very hard to comprehend. In 2013/14, fires caused by the so-called smokers’ materials killed 80 and injured more than 670 people in the UK. Yet that doesn’t seem to discourage smokers from continuing smoking.

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Photo credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

 

How Does It Feel? Most Vapers Say It’s As Satisfying As Smoking

Smokers and ex-smokers who have already switched to vaping will obviously know the best answer to the question; ‘what does vaping feel like?’ We therefore conducted a survey, asking vapers to tell us whether vaping feels like smoking. More than one half of respondents said vaping does feel just like smoking, adding it also provides the same throat hit. Similar responses were also recorded when it comes to vaping satisfying nicotine cravings and the experience after “trigger events” such as food and drink, with the small majority of respondents saying vaping is as satisfying as smoking.

There could be many reasons why some disagreed. Respondents who don’t think vaping feels like smoking perhaps cut down on nicotine levels too quickly. Obviously, e-cigarettes will feel less satisfying than a regular cigarette if it contains little or no nicotine. Also, it is important to note that nicotine absorption by the body IS not as efficient with vaping as it is with smoking. This means that when you initially make the switch from smoking to vaping there is a period of time where your body adjusts to the different rate of nicotine uptake.

A lot of people find they are using their device far more than they would have smoked at first – this is normal, and it will settle down over a short period of time. If you aren’t getting the satisfaction to your nicotine craving the simplest option is to try and up your e-liquid strength, or to look at a more advanced device which produces a greater amount of vapour – more vapour means more nicotine per puff (if all other factors are the same!). So, the overall experience of vaping including the taste, throat hit, vapour production, etc. depends greatly on the chosen vaping device and e-liquid, most notably flavour and nicotine strength. When finding the right e-cigarette and e-liquid, vaping can be equally or according to some survey respondents, even more satisfying than smoking.

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The persisting misconception among smokers that e-cigarettes don’t deliver nicotine as efficiently as regular cigarettes, and that the vaping experience is inferior to that of smoking may also be related to the quality and performance of the first generation e-cigarettes, which were in many cases indeed unsatisfactory. However, the technology has progressed tremendously since the introduction of e-cigarettes back in 2003. Meanwhile, the leading manufacturers didn’t only find a way to overcome the issue of nicotine delivery but also to develop a range of devices (and e-liquids) to suit a range of tastes and preferences. Either way, rejecting vaping for being less satisfying than smoking without even trying an e-cigarette cannot be regarded as a sound reason.

High Cost a Very Poor Excuse

£8.50 is the average cost for someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes every day; a costly habit for deadly consequences such as lung cancer and other potentially fatal or disabling diseases. That’s nearly £60 a week and more than £3,100 a year. Vaping, on the other hand, can cost anything from £4-30 a week – depending on the complexity of the device you choose and the amount of eJuice you get through.

Using a basic kit with a high PG eJuice could mean you are spending as little as £10 on the initial set up and around £4-6 a week in juice and replacement tanks. On a yearly basis, that equates to less than one-months supply of tobacco cigarettes. With this in mind, it’s really difficult to understand smokers who refuse e-cigarettes based on the cost factor. Just like ASH, we also found that the misperception of e-cigarettes being too expensive is one of the top 10 most commonly assumed reasons for not trying e-cigarettes among smokers.

Even though the figures speak for themselves, we decided to ask our survey participants how much they are spending on e-liquids compared to cigarettes. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority said they are spending significantly less. Smokers who are citing high cost as the main reason for their refusal to try an e-cigarette are thus extremely poorly informed or are only looking for excuses to continue smoking.

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Other Commonly Cited Reasons Having Similarly Weak Foundation

Other commonly cited reasons for not switching to vaping or trying an e-cigarette include concerns about weight gain, complicated use, too many products to choose from, difficult to get hold of, embarrassed to use e-cigarettes in public, expressing doubt to cut down / quitting smoking with the aid of e-cigarettes, and equating switching to vaping with replacing one addiction with another. Then there are also smokers who honestly admit that they don’t want to quit and those who live in self-denial, convinced they are not addicted to smoking and don’t need help to quit.

Even though smokers have cited a plethora of reasons for refusing to try e-cigarettes, all have similarly weak foundations. Sure, many people gain weight when they quit smoking. According to the NHS, it’s not unusual to gain 11 pounds within the first year when quitting smoking. Those who switch to vaping, however, are less likely to gain weight which was also confirmed by our survey respondents. Slightly more than one half didn’t notice any change in their weight, with 1 in 5 respondents reporting to have even lost weight since switching to vaping.

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Compared to regular cigarettes, using e-cigarettes may appear complicated. But that’s only at the first glance. Most people learn to use them within a day or two without any major difficulties. Similarly, the wide choice of vaping products can be overwhelming but most vapers agree it’s a good thing because it means a range of preferences have been addressed, making vaping more likely to be a satisfying experience for those who decide to switch. The claim that vaping supplies are difficult to get hold of, simply isn’t true. E-cigarettes may not be as easily available as regular cigarettes, however, they are sold by a wide range of stores, online and brick-and-mortar retailers ranging from the likes of Tesco and to pharmacy chains like Boots.

Considering the growing social disapproval of smoking (and smokers), and the growing acceptance of e-cigs as a harm reduction nicotine delivery system, it seems self defeating to avoid vaping because of perceived embarrassment – and if you’re thinking you can’t get over using a battery powered alternative to a cigarette because it looks less ‘cool’ than smoking, we would argue that a little embarrassment at first is worth the exchange for it being 95% safer. That’s a pretty good trade off!

Rejecting e-cigarettes as unlikely to help cut down cigarettes or quit smoking without trying them is equally incomprehensible. But the thing that is the most baffling is that as many as 1 in 4 smokers who refuse to try e-cigarettes are concerned about replacing one addiction with another even if they know that their current addiction is killing them. Technically, it’s not replacing one addiction with another but rather changing the existing addiction to a less harmful form. To satisfy their nicotine cravings, smokers are inhaling more than 4,000 chemicals which include nearly 70 known carcinogens. Vapers, on the other hand, inhale only four ingredients: vegetable glycerine (VG), propylene glycol (PG), flavour and nicotine.
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Photo credit: crazystocker/Shutterstock

 

Conclusion

Our Vape Club, demographics concerning our subscribers has revealed that the interest for e-cigarettes tends to decline with age as there is a significant drop of subscribers who are aged 45 or more. They account for less than 15% of the total subscribers, with those aged 55 or more accounting for less than 5%.

More research is necessary to determine why this is the case, however, it may not be a coincidence, considering that the older generation are often be less internet savvy and thus rely on information which is published in the traditional media, television and so on – which has for a long time been misguided and in many cases completely wrong.

After a careful analysis of the most commonly cited reasons for refusing to try e-cigarettes among smokers (including those younger than 45 years), we couldn’t find a single sound argument for their reluctance. On the contrary, the results of our own research and that conducted by ASH, PHE and other relevant organisations/institutions reveal that the smokers’ concerns towards e-cigarettes are unfounded, unjustified and in some cases, totally incomprehensible.

Thus it can be concluded that about 96,000 smokers are dying in the UK each year (ASH) just because they are poorly informed, misled by conflicting media reports making them unwilling to even try a less harmful nicotine delivery product.

When concerns over health implications, safety, cost, satisfaction levels and other commonly cited arguments for not trying e-cigarettes are excluded as groundless, smokers are left with no sound reason for their reluctance to make the switch.

Feature image credit: manzrussali/Shutterstock