The Pros and Cons of Vaping in the UK: Is It Safe and Effective?
When Public Health England released a bombshell report in 2015 concluding that vaping was about 95 percent safer than smoking, there was no way to stop the flood of new vapers that ensued. Although vaping has only been around for a little over a decade, there are now more than 3 million people who vape in the United Kingdom. The NHS has helped to continue this trend by actively encouraging people to make the switch to vaping if they can’t quit smoking by other means.
Although experts’ early conclusions about vaping indicated that it was safer than smoking and could potentially be effective in helping people quit, research into the safety and effectiveness of vaping has been ongoing. A mountain of new data has been produced since the landmark 2015 report from PHE – so are experts still as positive about vaping today as they were then? Here’s what the latest information suggests.
Recent Data Supports the Effectiveness of Vaping for Smoking Cessation
As long as vaping has existed, there has been ample anecdotal evidence of vaping’s effectiveness for smoking cessation. You can see that evidence on forums and social media. You probably also have friends and family members who have used vaping to help themselves quit. It wasn’t until recently, though, that clinical evidence began to appear to support what upwards of 68 million people already know.
Perhaps the most important study on vaping and smoking cessation to date was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2019. The study was done in conjunction with the UK National Health Service, and it involved 886 patients who wanted to quit smoking and were randomly given either vape kits or traditional nicotine replacement products. All patients also attended support sessions for four weeks.
After one year, the patients were tested to see if they had managed to remain abstinent from smoking. Of those who were given vape kits, 18 percent had quit smoking successfully – and in the standard nicotine replacement group, only 9.9 percent were able to stop smoking. This result suggests that, compared to using traditional nicotine replacement products, vaping may nearly double your odds of quitting successfully.
Vaping Is Still Considered Less Harmful Than Smoking, but It Isn’t Risk-Free
A major evidence-based review of vaping vs. smoking was published in the Respiratory Research Journal in 2021. The researchers who compiled the review examined the results of 112 studies that had been published in various peer-reviewed journals. The review examined vaping-related topics as varied as the effect of vaping on indoor air quality, the possibility that vaping could cause cancer, the effect of vaping on the airway, the effects of nicotine itself and more. The review was as comprehensive as anything that has been published to date, and its conclusion is the same as what most of the world’s medical experts have already stated: Vaping still appears to be significantly less risky than smoking. Although vaping isn’t completely free from potentially hazardous effects, e-cigarette vapour does contain far fewer toxins than cigarette smoke.
Vaping Doesn’t Increase Your Odds of Contracting COVID-19
You might remember that when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, anti-vaping groups – primarily based in the United States – attempted to stir up fear by suggesting that vaping could increase your odds of contracting the virus. However, a recent study compiled by the Mayo Clinic titled “Electronic Cigarette Use Is Not Associated With COVID-19 Diagnosis” refutes that notion.
The researchers who compiled the study used data from 69,264 patients who went to the Mayo Clinic for medical care in 2019 and 2020 and either smoked or vaped. Based on the data compiled, vaping did not increase the odds of receiving a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Although vaping does carry potential health risks, an increased likelihood of contracting COVID-19 is not one of them.
Vigilance Remains Important When Buying E-Liquid
One of the biggest controversies to hit the vaping community was the 2019 outbreak of a severe lung illness that came to be known as E-Cigarette or Vaping Product Use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI). The illness sickened 2,758 people and killed at least 64, almost exclusively in the United States. EVALI presented itself as a form of lipoid pneumonia, and the condition made it difficult or impossible for patients to breathe. Because all of the people who contracted the illness vaped, anti-vaping groups in the United States were quick to blame nicotine vaping as the source of the problem even though no legal nicotine vaping product had ever been implicated as the cause of EVALI.
After lengthy research, it was confirmed that nicotine vaping had nothing to do with EVALI and that the real cause was a different form of vaping. In the United States, the black market was flooded with thousands – perhaps even millions – of counterfeit vape cartridges that were purportedly filled with cannabis oil but were heavily diluted with vitamin E acetate. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that vitamin E had been found in the lung fluid of at least 51 EVALI patients and that black-market THC cartridges were most likely to be the cause of the disease.
In 2020, Public Health England published a press release explaining that e-cigarettes were definitely less harmful than conventional cigarettes and that people shouldn’t believe the sensationalised reports about EVALI coming out of the US. By that point, though, the damage had been done. In a survey conducted around that time, over half of smokers reported that they thought e-cigarettes were just as harmful – perhaps even more so – than tobacco cigarettes. The EVALI outbreak was a major setback for tobacco harm reduction.
Now that THC users around the world are aware of the dangers of vitamin E acetate and black-market cannabis cartridges, EVALI cases are extremely rare. The panic among tobacco smokers and nicotine vapers has subsided, and the vaping community has resumed its previous pattern of rapid growth. Nevertheless, the EVALI crisis underscores the importance of always buying vape juice from a reliable vape shop that you know and trust. All legal vaping products sold in the UK are lab tested for safety and purity, and they’re all registered with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. If you can’t find a vaping product on the MHRA registered products list, it isn’t legal for sale here, and you should avoid buying it.