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What is the truth about vaping?

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

As health chiefs call for e-cigarettes to be provided on the NHS, vaping is becoming more popular. But what exactly is it?

The public have been told this week that vaping is 95 per cent healthier than smoking, and that GPs should be recommending it to patients who are looking to quit smoking.

Game-changer: Professor Ann McNeill

Q: What are e-cigarettes?

A: E-cigarettes, also known as personal vaporisers (PV) or an electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS), supply the user with nicotine without the burning of tobacco leaves, although not all use nicotine.

When the user sucks on the e-cigarette, liquid nicotine is vaporised and absorbed through the mouth. When they breathe out, a plume of what appears to be smoke is emitted but it is actually largely water vapour.

Q: How popular are they?

A: Inventor Hon Lik was the first to have his idea patented in his native China in 2003, and it has since become an industry worth around £2 billion. Anti-smoking group Ash estimates there are now 2.6 million vapers in the UK.

Q: Are they all the same?

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A: No. There are a huge variety of products on the market, and hundreds of different flavours.

Q: What are the health risks?

A: Numerous studies have been carried out, but as e-cigarettes are such a new product they can only look at the short-term effects.

Public Health England (PHE) said that experts have calculated vaping to be at least 95 per cent less dangerous than smoking – or alternatively that smoking is 20 times more dangerous than using e-cigarettes.

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While cigarettes contain carcinogens and other toxic chemicals contained in tar from tobacco, e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and so avoid delivering these substances.

The main health issues surrounding e-cigarettes concern other ingredients, contaminants and by-products, which can generate some toxicants – but these are at the very low levels found in the air that people generally breathe. But while e-cigarettes are far less dangerous than conventional cigarettes, health experts are not encouraging people to take up the habit for the sake of it.

The emergence of e-cigarettes has given way to fears that they will act as a gateway to smoking conventional cigarettes among those who have never smoked – particularly children – but there is no evidence to support this.

Professor Peter Hajek, director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "People who are attracted to e-cigarettes are the same people who are attracted to smoking."

"If everybody who was smoking switched to e-cigarettes that would reduce to about 4,000 deaths a year. That's the best estimate at the moment.

"It may well be much, much lower than that."

According to the dictionary vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette. Various flavourings can be added.

But there is also a huge social and hobby aspect around it. Competitions are regularly held across the globe challenging people to make the best flavours, blow the biggest smoke rings and do the coolest tricks with the smoke.

Customers regularly sit in vaping shops puffing away as they socialise with other vapers.

Online, groups boast thousands of members as fellow vapers discuss their favourite flavours and new ways to build e-cigarettes.

The Express & Star spoke to members of the vaping community and those who still smoke straight cigarettes to get their views.

Paul Squires, aged 26, from Codsall, and Shane Bannister, aged 21, from Low Hill, run the Vaperholic shop in Wolverhampton town centre.

They said that vaping is a healthy way to get off smoking and is much better than nicotine patches. They said: "We opened here just before Christmas last year, around November time. Vaping is a healthy alternative to smoking and it's a healthier way of getting people off smoking than those horrible patches. It just promotes a healthier lifestyle.

"We would never tell people to start vaping if they don't smoke.

"We have had people who wanted to get off cigarettes who started vaping and are now off that as well, just because they hate being addicted being to something.

"But a lot of people stick with vaping, even if they don't put any nicotine in, just because of the habit they have of puffing on something.

"There's a huge social aspect around vaping. People come in here for a coffee and a chat and just stay for hours playing video games."

Paul Squires and Shane Bannister at Vaperholic

The pair said that blueberry was their most popular flavour, but that people loved to experiment, and that custard was a favourite.

One e-cigarette smoker, aged 24, who did not want to be named, has been using e-cigarettes for about 18 months after smoking for eight years. She praised the smell of e-cigs as well as their price.

She said: "I decided to switch because smoking inside was my main incentive, also because of the fact that so many people I knew were smoking them and I became conscious of the fact that cigarettes smell bad and cling to your clothes so I gave it a shot and it's a much nicer alternative. It's much lighter on your chest, it doesn't make you smell, in fact it smells nice which makes a lovely change. It's much cheaper. I spend about £55 with my partner and that is enough to keep us going for two months.

"I used to smoke 60-80 cigarettes a week, around three to four packets, which would now cost me almost £30 a week.

"Not only that, you find yourself coming down the nicotine strength.

"When you start, 1.8mg of nicotine is the strongest, it was certainly what I started on and from that point onwards it just becomes harsh on your chest and unpleasant to smoke and you just go down. I'm now on 0.6mg.

"I don't really say how anybody who doesn't smoke would start smoking e-cigarettes, but even if it did encourage people to smoke it's so much better than cigarettes and kids are going to do what they want anyway.

"I feel more comfortable smoking around people, when I used to smoke cigarettes I used to be much more self conscious, but now I feel much more comfortable because it's not passive – I've even had people comment in festival queues about just how nice it smells. It even leaves a lovely smell in my car."

Ricardo Bailey, aged 21, from Bilston, and Craig Sessogne, aged 22, from Walsall, both smoke packet cigarettes but said they would never switch to e-cigarettes and vaping.

Ricardo said: "Why I started smoking is a long story but basically I started years ago because my friends all did it and I thought I was cool. I don't like it but I enjoy it if that makes sense.

"I've tried to stop so many times but it's hard man.

"I would never switch to vaping, it's not safe. One e-cigarette blew up in my cousin's face."

Craig added: "How do you know what you're smoking? All those chemicals in the smoke, I just don't trust them."

But Mr Squires and Mr Bannister from Vaperholic have disputed these claims. They said: "People are scared of what they don't know. There's no harmful chemicals in vaping, just vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and nicotine if you so choose."

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