We live in a cynical, sceptical world. Anything new or innovative in the smoking arena is going to cause some level of controversy. But we're constantly being fed mixed messages. On one side, we have the medical community, cautiously reasserting the value of e-cigs as a viable cessation method, yet reluctant to call them a "benefit." And on the other side we have the political community, hammering down stringent EU regulations to address the dangers, but without conducting the groundwork. While I will try to steer clear of the "how bad is vaping?" debate - anyone with half a brain knows that smoking in any form isn't "good" for human health! - I'd like to point out the problems with the way we're failing to distinguish differences in the extremely broad business we call the smoking industry.
But first, the facts... around 2.6 million Britons use e-cigarettes, and in 2014 alone, 900,000 people started vaping in order to quit tobacco smoking. Cigarette smoke contains around 7,000 chemicals, and roughly 250 of these are harmful to the human body, including arsenic, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and acetone. Most e-cig liquids primarily consist of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, nicotine and food flavourings. Unlike tobacco cigarettes, e-cigs do not produce tar or carbon dioxide, and of all the toxic chemicals that remain, the quantities are nine to 450 times lower - these levels are comparable to pharmaceutical nicotine inhalers. An independent review conducted in 2015 found that e-cigs are 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes. That said, even such promising results aren't enough to satisfy the government, which has led to somewhat excessive regulation.
On May 20th 2016, the European Union updated the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive, implementing new laws for vapers that essentially give the government greater control. These laws include smaller refill containers, which could prevent bulk buying and make e-liquids more expensive; and a maximum nicotine content cut from 24mg to 20mg, which could send a large proportion of users back to cigarette smoking. How this could affect the United Kingdom after Brexit is still up in the air.
Of course, the e-cig industry should not be completely unregulated. Just look how long it took for smoking to even be considered dangerous. Tobacco was cultivated in Europe for almost 400 years and grew into a huge industry before the first medical reports linked smoking to lung cancer in the 1920s. While we're living in another age with significantly advanced technology and a far deeper understanding of human biology, the point is still just a relevant: you can never be too careful, especially when people's livelihoods are at stake. However, nobody is claiming that e-cigs are healthy; they're simply claiming that they are a healthier alternative to tobacco smoking. Therefore, we shouldn't be fearing e-cigs, but using them to our advantage.
That said, even medical opinion is hugely divided as to whether or not nicotine-based products are the best way to kick a smoking habit. For example, the NHS don't provide e-cigs on a prescription basis; however, they do recommend them as a viable cessation method. Alternatively, the Smoke Free Partnership want to focus more on prevention, stating "We are disappointed with the EU debate focusing on e-cigarettes. We would be more interested to see measures that help prevent young people from smoking." The latter opinion being a classic example of trying to focus on a one-size-fits-all approach. However, targeting a single group, i.e. young starters, simply isn't enough. To regulate the industry properly there must be a clear distinction between quitters and starters. Others are worried that e-cigs could be counter-productive, serving as a gateway to tobacco smoking.
The fear that e-cigs will become a form of encouragement for the younger generation is certainly understandable, especially now that they have developed far beyond a tool for quitting and curbing addition. With hipster culture popularizing the use of modification kits, flavoured liquids and space age smoking devices that look as trendy as the latest Apple gadgets, the real question should be "How do we draw a line between the trend and the assistive smoking device?" They are certainly not mutually exclusive, and should not be addressed in the same manner. A tobacco quitter isn't going to head out to an e-cig smoking meetup - which many retailers are now hosting - while hipster e-cig smokers won't just quit the hobby and elaborate techno-culture that they've grown to love. Fundamentally, until we start acknowledging the fact that not all smokers fall under the same category, and that not all smokers even want to quit, excessive EU regulations will make little difference to the trend of vaping, yet could potentially pose a threat to those who genuinely take it up for medicinal purposes.
On a quick personal note, I am an ex-smoker. I initially turned to e-cigs to curb my addition while at work - not as a quitting method. However, for me, quitting was a natural progression. It took six months of weaning, gradually reducing nicotine levels, adjusting the power and testing flavours. Going back to tobacco smoking just seemed ridiculous, especially when I started using zero-nicotine liquids. This was in 2014. If the rules that apply to the industry today were the same back then, perhaps quitting may not have been so easy.