More and more smokers are turning to electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) to get their nicotine fix. In fact 'vaping', as the pastime is affectionately known, has become something of a trend.
While smoking has long been socially unacceptable, vape cafes are cropping up all over the country - from The Vape Lab in London's Shoreditch to The Vaping Cafe in Royal Tunbridge Wells - and everyone from Cara Delevingne to Johnny Depp are doing it.
But despite being en trend, many are concerned about the possible health implications of using e-cigarettes (so far, this is relatively unexplored territory) and worry that vaping might prevent smokers from kicking the habit.
We caught up with some experts to find out the truth about vaping.
How do e-cigarettes work?
According to the NHS website, most e-cigarettes contain three things: a battery, an atomiser and a replaceable cartridge.
The cartridge contains a liquid nicotine containing either propylene glycol or glycerine and water and when a user sucks on the device, the liquid is heated up and turned it into water vapour.
"In the UK, 'vaping' is the general term for using e-cigarettes," says Dr Nitin Shori, Medical Director of the Pharmacy2U Online and HuffPost UK blogger. "Almost all e-cigs produce vapour because the aim is to reproduce the smoking experience as closely as possible."
"In the USA however, there is a subset of users which specifically modifies the e-cigarette to produce as much vapour as possible and this subset could be termed true vapers."
So are e-cigarettes safe?
E-cigarettes are generally seen to be a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, which are known for their harmful carcinogenic chemicals.
But at present the e-cigarette industry is not regulated, and so there is no long term data to reassure users about the safety of the products.
John Dicey, worldwide managing director and senior therapist for Allen Carr's Easyway, believes that e-cigarettes were introduced in the worst possible fashion.
"Rather than insisting that these products be regulated in the same way as other nicotine-containing products such as patches and gum, the public health establishment actively chose to ignore them, on the basis that as an untested product of somewhat questionable safety, e-cigarettes should not be available for sale at all," he said in a statement.
"This strategy has allowed marketers of e-cigarettes to operate in a regulatory grey area and sell an addictive product completely free of age-restriction, safety and efficacy regulations and with no marketing or advertising restrictions whatsoever."
Dr Shori adds: "E-cigarettes are produced by a variety of different manufacturers and, having seen many of the devices, there are definitely quality concerns with some of them. The reason people are not being strongly warned off the use of e-cigs is that there is a presumption that they won’t carry as many safety risks as normal cigarettes.
"Regulation and rigid long term safety data are required for the medical profession to fully support e-cigs. Until that time, we are relying on a presumption and can therefore only offer tentative advice."
This is set to change by 2016, when all e-cigarettes will be licensed and regulated as an aid to quit smoking. But the Public Health England already estimate the industry to be worth £91.3 million a year and this is expected to rise to £340 million by 2015.
Is vaping an effective way to give up smoking?
"There is no doubt that large numbers of patients have given up smoking using e-cigs," says Dr. Shori. "E-cigs are a nicotine replacement therapy and in the same way as other NRT, their use should be slowly reduced until e-cig free. It is true that, as with other forms of NRT, a subset of patients can become addicted to the replacement devices."
John Dicey is sceptical. "The vast majority of e-cigarette users smoke when they can…and use e-cigarettes (vape) when they can’t!" he said.
Drawing on a study conducted by Allen Carr's Easyway, he claimed that 84% of e-cigarette users regularly continue to smoke cigarettes as well as vape.
The study examined the attitudes and habits of more than 1,000 adult e-cigarette users in the UK.
Have you tried vaping? Let us know in the comments below.
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