The government is launching a new campaign to try to persuade UK smokers that vaping is not as unhealthy as smoking and a good way to stop, in an attempt to counter the controversy created by some scientific studies and news headlines. Public Health England (PHE), which claims that vaping is 95% less toxic than cigarettes, publishes a brief video of an experiment that shows the volume of oily black tar produced in the lungs of a heavy smoker in a bell container. By contrast, the same intake of nicotine by steaming releases only traces of residues.
“It would be devastating if thousands of smokers who could quit with the assistance of an e-cigarette were scared off because of unfounded concerns about protection,” said Prof. John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at PHE. “We need to convince smokers that converting to an e-cigarette would be far less harmful than smoking. This presentation shows the catastrophic harm done by a cigarette and lets people see that vaping is likely to pose just a fraction of the risk.
PHE says vaping risks are low relative to smoking. Any of the published research concentrates on risks without looking at those of smokers. For example, a laboratory study from Birmingham University in August reported that vaping could damage cells in the lungs. Although the writers argued that they did not believe that e-cigarettes were more dangerous than regular cigarettes, they indicated that there might be an impact over 20 or 30 years and called for “cautious caution” about the health of vaping.
Martin Dockrell, director of the PHE tobacco prevention project, said that all scientists in the sector have aspirations to improve health. “We want to think of our scientists as being disconnected from this, but in fact, the scientists interested in this field on both sides are profoundly passionate about it,” he said.
Studies on the dangers of contaminants in e-cigarettes have been published extensively in the newspapers. Some were deceptive and others were inconsistent, Dockrell said. “People don’t know who to believe, and they believe the thing that best suits them,” he said. A smoker who finds it impossible to stop does not want to accept that e-cigarettes are much less dangerous.
One of the myths that hit the rounds is that smoking triggers “popcorn lung” – a condition that makes people cough and gasp for oxygen that can be caused by a compound used to flavor popcorn that is also used in e-cigarettes. But the chemical, diacetyl, is also 100 times higher in ordinary cigarettes.
The question over e-cigarettes is strong in the United States, where smoking has taken place among school children. A lot of people use a small device called Juul, the equivalent of a USB stick. Anti-tobacco advocates are concerned that e-cigarettes could be a “gateway” to smoking, and some reports show that this may happen.
A study commissioned by the National Center for Opioid Addiction in December showed a major rise in the number of teens who were steaming. More than one in three high school seniors said they were steaming last year, which was 10 times the number of people who smoked cigarettes and a 10% rise in a year. A few months ago, the Food and Drug Administration launched an awareness drive to alert young people that there was a danger of vaping.
PHE says that although the use of e-cigarettes has risen among young people in England until 2015, figures have since flattened.
PHE claims the e-cigarettes will help a lot of people quit smoking – killing one of those who try it. Statistics from the smoking reduction campaign found that 65-68% of those who used e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapy were able to stop.