You’re as likely to pass someone puffing on an e-cigarette as you are to walk through smoke from a cigarette or a shisha pipe. Using e-cigarettes – known as vaping – is now projected and seen as the healthier way to consume nicotine. But it hasn’t been around for long and, worryingly, was linked to a wave of deaths in the US last year, prompting concerns that its short and long-term effects are still clouded in smoke.
You can vape – consume nicotine – using a product known as an e-cigarette. Introduced to the region in April last year, vaping products carry the same laws as traditional cigarettes. The legal age for purchasing these products is 18 and laws have been put in place for where you are allowed to vape. Hospitals, schools, and sports facilities are some of the locations where it is illegal, with hefty fines put in place for those caught.
There are different types of vaping products, including cigalikes (which look like cigarettes); vape pens, with a tank to store the nicotine liquid; pod systems, which are often shaped like a USB stick; and mod devices, the largest, with longer-lasting rechargeable batteries, often recommended for heavier smokers. A packet of cigarettes is not that much cheaper than a disposable vaping device, which lasts two to three days with moderate use. Crucially, they all work by allowing you to inhale nicotine as a vapor instead of smoke. “It’s the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke that do the most damage to your body,” says Dr. Nick Hopkinson, medical director at the British Lung Foundation and chair of quitting charity ASH. “E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, and any other harmful substances are present in much smaller amounts.”
This is what makes vaping valuable when it comes to quitting smoking. “It’s at least as effective as nicotine patches and gums,” says Dr. Hopkinson. “Some research has shown that people who vape instead of using other products are twice as likely to be ex-smokers after a year. We don’t know exactly why it’s more effective but it could be that for some, it’s helpful to have something that reproduces the experience of smoking – you have something to hold and puff from – as well as deliver nicotine.” He adds that another element that might attribute to its effectiveness is, quite simply, its novelty.
“E-cigarettes are as addictive as regular cigarettes as they both contain nicotine.”
Vaping worked for Vanessa Harris, 37, a teacher from London. “I’d been smoking since my teens and tried everything to quit. I managed to stop during my pregnancy with my son but went back to it soon after he was born. I was at my wits’ end. I resisted the idea of vaping because it still seemed like smoking to me, but last year, I decided it was worth a try. I am delighted to say I haven’t smoked since and feel so much better.”There are scientifically grounded risks attributed to vaping. Last year, more than 50 people died from vaping-related lung injury in the US, with around 2 000 falling seriously ill. Some vaping liquids contain an oily substance called vitamin E acetate, which was found in lung fluid samples from those affected. Even with ordinary e-cigarettes, though, there’s always a possibility an individual might have an adverse reaction. For example, some people with asthma have reported the vapor can trigger symptoms.
There are also concerns around children and young adults vaping for fun, leading them to develop a dangerous nicotine habit. “Surveys have suggested the new generation is becoming hooked on e-cigarettes and in some instances, people who never smoked have become addicted to vaping,” says Dr. Hoda Makkawi, director of wellness at Euromed Clinic Center in Dubai. “E-cigarettes are as addictive as regular cigarettes as they both contain nicotine. In fact, sometimes the e-cigarette can be more addictive than tobacco products as you can have higher concentrations of nicotine in extra-strength cartridges.” These concerns have led a number of countries to introduce sweeping bans on e-cigarettes, including Thailand, Vietnam, and India.
Market research company Euromonitor predicts 55 million adults worldwide will be vaping by next year. And Dr. Hopkinson is in favor. “While vaping isn’t completely risk-free, evidence shows it’s at least 95% safer than smoking tobacco, which, whether a cigarette or a shisha pipe – is extremely dangerous for your health, linked with cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and various types of cancer. If you switch to vaping, you’ll immediately improve your health.”
So how long should you vape before trying to kick that as well? A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed using e-cigarettes for three months alongside behavioral therapy helped people quit, shares Dr. Makkawi. “I’d suggest trying not to vape for much longer than that.” It’s something Harris has been struggling with. “While I’m delighted I’m no longer smoking and can see the difference in my health and my skin, I’ve been vaping for eight months now and am worried about what will happen when I try to quit.”
What’s crucial, says Dr. Hopkinson, is making sure you don’t return to cigarettes. “Vaping should only be a quitting aid – non-smokers shouldn’t take it up, and if you use e-cigarettes to help you quit, you should try to stop that in the long-term, too,” she says. “Keep up vaping for a few months before you try to quit completely. As you get further from your last cigarette, you can adjust the liquid to reduce the amount of nicotine you’re getting from e-cigarettes.” Only buy e-cigarettes from regulated sellers. And remember: the most effective way to quit is using nicotine products alongside behavioral therapy – so speak to your doctor about the combination that will help you stub out the tobacco habit for good.
Originally published in the March 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia