There have been a number of conflicting reports on the health implications of smoking e-cigarettes. In spite of a Public Health England review finding that they are 95% safer than traditional cigarettes and are an effective quitting aid, the wider health implications for smokers and non-smokers alike, are unknown.
As a result, although licensed e-cigarettes have kept their rightful place, as a tool in the stop smoking arsenal of local pharmacies, the category as a whole has become much more recreational in nature, with the products becoming widely available in shops or vape cafes, where sadly, health is the least of their considerations.
As the popularity of the e-cigarette continues to rise, fuelled in no small part by 'Vapers' themselves, who welcome it as a healthier alternative to tobacco, additions such as designer flavours and atomisers are fuelling the desirability of the trend - making it cool among the very audiences that anti smoking campaigners have fought so hard to target.
The key concern is around younger people who, while acutely aware of the dangers of smoking, are bypassing traditional smoking altogether and jumping on the vaping bandwagon, seemingly oblivious to the health implications.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine and that is what makes them so effective for smokers wanting to quit. However, it is also this nicotine content that makes them addictive. This fact, combined with ingredients contained in the vaping liquid, which have been shown to have their own negative impact on health, suggest that the rising trend towards recreational vaping, could be at risk of undermining the benefits of the tool as a stop smoking device.
Furthermore, one study has suggested that the emergence of a trend among teens in 'dripping' in which the e-cigarette liquid is dropped directly onto the hot coils of the device to produce thicker, more flavourful smoke, may expose users to higher levels of nicotine and other known carcinogens including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
The lack of long term research has led the British Medical Association to call for a ban in public places, due to concerns that widespread use of e-cigarettes will normalise the consumption of nicotine, undoing all the good work which has contributed to making smoking socially unacceptable.
And yet, the benefits of the device cannot and should not be ignored. I have seen life-long smokers use licensed e-cigarettes, through the in-pharmacy stop smoking service, to successfully quit their 40-a-day habit. Having worked with hundreds of patients over the years, seeing such life changing success it's hard to underestimate the potential that this innovative smoking cessation tool could have on the health of the nation.
It feels like we're waking a tightrope, on the one hand we have this technology which, when used as an aid to stop smoking has the potential to eradicate smoking and smoking related disease and on the other hand we have young, non smokers taking up vaping and becoming addicted to the nicotine content while putting their health at risk from the added ingredients, the full health implications of which are still unclear.
What we do know is that, according to research, teens who vape are four times more likely to take up tobacco within a year - evidence that the device is fuelling the very habit that it was invented to stop.
I would argue that, had e-cigarettes been confined to the clinical setting of a pharmacy, rather than being sold, sweet-like in newsagents or given the 'Amsterdam Cool' of a vaping cafe, their allure may not have been quite so strong.
Larger and more comprehensive studies, from which we can draw definitive conclusions about the long-term safety of e-cigarettes, are essential.
Five smoking facts:
• Approximately 80,000 people a year die of a smoking related illness
• Smoking costs the NHS £2 billion a year
• 2.6 million people use e-cigarettes in the UK
• There are around eight million smokers in Britain
• E-cigarettes are the most popular quitting aid
For advice and support on quitting for good visit:
http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/smoking/Pages/e-cigarettes.aspxSuggest a correction