As with anything newsworthy, public perception can often be skewed thanks to media attention and we all know the media doesn’t always report things in black and white. That is why we are looking at the evidence and the evidence suggests using e cigarettes is much safer and better for your health than traditional smoking.
So, what has led to the increase in people believing e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking?
At this time of year, we start our new diary, we charge up the activity bracelet / device we got for Christmas and throw away all left-over chocolate, determined to make this year the healthiest one to date. For smokers, New Year is often seen as the perfect time to start fresh and to set resolutions which include stopping smoking. With so many smokers pledging to give up the tobacco for good it’s safe to say a number of quit-plans have been put in place.
Some people like to rip the plaster off quickly and go cold turkey, others might visit their NHS Stop Smoking clinic for support which could include group sessions and NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) while others (quite a few others) seem to be turning to electronic cigarettes. Indeed, a study published in the British Medical Journal (read more here) recently suggested that as many as eighteen thousand tobacco smokers in England alone were aided in their quest to quit smoking successfully thanks to using an e cigarette when they quite likely may have continued smoking otherwise.
Media and Public Perception
With so much evidence to the contrary, why is it then that public perception seems to have moved towards e cigarettes being negative? The harm tobacco cigarettes will do to your body is clear and yet the fact that e cigarettes are completely different to smoking and that vaping has been advocated for by a number of agencies as a cessation device given that it is healthier than smoking doesn’t seem to have turned opinion towards vaping. The reason behind this is, mostly, the media.
To be fair, sometimes the media do get something of an unfair rep when it comes to being blamed for everything that happens in the world however when it comes to public perception regarding smoking, and of course opinion can have a significant effect on how people act or don’t act, the media do have to shoulder some of the blame. The Times recently had to apologise to a group of scientists for stating that their research was paid for by the tobacco industry and insinuating therefore that it couldn’t be “fair”. This cast a shadow of doubt on all research done by the same team (probably why there has been talk of legal action) and has had a knock-on effect on how people view and how much they trust other research into vaping (etc). This is just one example of how the media have altered the overall opinion of vaping.
Indeed, in the UK a recent survey showed that more people believe now that vaping is dangerous or as dangerous as smoking then they did in 2013. This is despite, since that time even Public Health England, the branch of the Department of Health responsible for implementing the Go Smoke Free legislation, stating that they are by far the cleaner, safer choice and much preferred over tobacco smoking which has been proven to be dangerous, even lethal over time.
It is astonishing in a way that perception has turn the way it has as now, in 2017, we know so much more about vaping and so much more research has been undertaken regarding vaping which supports it as a valid and safe alternative to smoking.
Sensationalist stories about exploding e cigarettes, that don’t mention that in some cases these “accidents” occurred as a result of individuals choosing to alter or modify their e cigarettes, against manufacturer advice, and using incorrect batteries hasn’t helped. The (small) number of vaping incidents isn’t often compared either to the significantly higher verified number of injuries, house fires and even deaths associated with tobacco smoking…..
The Scientific View
Again, you can’t blame the media for everything, as tempting as it may be sometimes, especially when scientists have a hard time agreeing on whether vaping is “better” than tobacco smoking or most commonly, how safe vaping is. In many cases the concern stems from the fact that scientists wish to study the longer term effects of vaping before accepting pro-vaping research, which they have to date been unable to do as the industry and vaping itself is fairly young, only coming onto the mass market in the early 2000’s.
In short, people are looking for absolutes. They want a rubber stamp that states categorically that vaping is 100% safe and 100% healthy. While, again, there isn’t enough research undertaken over a long enough period to categorical state this, the Royal College of Physicians recently published a study, after much research, that stated that they concluded that inhaling vapour via vaping was not likely to exceed five percent of the harm that smoking has been proven to do. It’s a pat on the back for vaping, albeit a slow and discreet one but “we” are getting there.
With more research being undertaken every date and data being released regularly the case for vaping being the safer choice is strengthened and will hopefully in time convinced those who as yet aren’t ready to embrace these facts.
The Nicotine Question
While some are happy to accept the huge amount of research which proves vaping to be safer than tobacco cigarettes, as well as the positive endorsements from national health organisations, others are still very hung up on the nicotine issue.
While it is very clear that tobacco cigarettes are harmful the WHO, (the World Health Organisation) has classified a great number of the ingredients in tobacco cigarettes as being cancer-causing and tobacco smoking as a whole the same, many are confused about the nicotine question.
Nicotine is an addictive substance found in tobacco cigarettes and also in e liquids which are used with e cigarettes to produce the flavoured vapour that is inhaled, rather than the smoke that would come from a tobacco cigarette. The nicotine is also what helps to produce the “throat hit” smokers are used to when they smoke and it has an effect on flavour. In December 2016 the US Surgeon General’s office published a review which looked at vaping amongst younger people. It concluded that nicotine inhalation in young people and pregnant women was potentially harmful. While many agree, including pro-vaping scientists, that nicotine has a significant effect on some and shouldn’t be used by minors, pregnant women or those in ill health, what is being overlooked is the likelihood of this happening and the differences between vaping and smoking in terms of nicotine.
There is limited research to support a claim that children are more likely to try e cigarettes over tobacco. Considering the fact that vaping is age restricted, the same way that tobacco is proves that availability is not the issue. Vaping advertisers also must adhere to strict advertising codes, part of which dictates that adverts may not in any way make vaping attractive to children. The other side of this could simply be that teens are going to try and experience smoking (or similar) one way or another, given as for many that it is something of a rite of passage. The fact that more teens are trying e cigarettes than ever before is because e cigarettes are now available whereas once upon a time they weren’t. A certain amount of common sense needs to be applied to certain situations which comparing smoking and vaping.
Another point that is rarely taken into consideration is the fact that while smokers of tobacco have little control over what nicotine their products contains, unless you consider “light” versions of some branded cigarettes; vapers have ultimate control. E liquids are available with multiple levels of nicotine, from those which would suit previously heavy smokers, to regular smokers, light smokers and there are even zero nicotine e liquids. This allows vapers to gradually reduce their nicotine use, not entirely different to using NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) while still enjoying the physical habit of vaping. With evidence of this on the table, many feel the nicotine question has been answered. Yes, there is nicotine in e cigarettes but no, vapers aren’t stuck with it. They have choice and the opportunity to wean themselves off the nicotine.
It is fast becoming obvious that vaping has the potential to help a large number of people move away from what is clearly a dangerous and unhealthy tobacco smoking habit. Health organisations advocate their use as a cessation device and many organisations, a number of whom who are usually wary when it comes to giving anything the green light, are stating they believe that vaping is by far the better choice and many recognise that the scientific proof is overwhelming.
The simple fact of the matter is that vaping is considerably safer than tobacco cigarette smoking. What happens now is that we need to find a way to overcome the negativity that sells newspapers and boosts online hits in relation to vaping reporting and to work to turn public perception back around again. Thankfully, it isn’t the retailers and manufacturers of e cigarettes and e liquids that need to prove vaping is the better alternative by far as scientific testing and reporting will do that. If you are interested in reading more about vaping as opposed to tobacco smoking from a health perspective have a look at this interesting read from Cancer Research UK.