Vaping has made the headlines this month after concerns they’re becoming too appealing and available to young people. Just this week, a study revealed the number of children trying out vaping has risen by 50% in the past year. What’s more, the majority of those surveyed didn’t believe it was harmful or addictive.
Earlier this month paediatricians warned that youth vaping is ‘fast becoming an epidemic among children’ as they called for the government to ban disposable vapes.
So what exactly are vapes and how dangerous are they for us? Here’s what you need to know about this relatively new habit.
What is vaping?
Vaping, or e-cigarettes, came along as a tobacco-free option for people looking to give up smoking. They contain nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals that heat up to form a vapour you inhale, hence the name ‘vape’.
You can get different types, such as vape pens, bars, pods or cigalikes, which can be disposable or rechargeable.
If you choose to start vaping to quit smoking, they’re not available via your GP or on prescription so you will have to pay for them, although vaping costs less than a third of smoking.
Is vaping safe?
While there’s no doubt vapes or e-cigarettes contain less chemicals than regular cigarettes and tobacco-based products, there’s little evidence to suggest it’s a ‘safe’ habit to take up.
‘The question is really whether it’s safer than smoking cigarettes, as not enough is known about the chemicals you’re inhaling or the long-term effects that may have on your mouth, throat and lungs yet,’ says ZoomDoc’s Dr Jenny Ellenbogen.
‘They also contain nicotine, which is the addictive part of smoking, so if you’re shifting from smoking to vaping, you may just be replacing one bad habit with another,’ she adds.
The actual products themselves are tightly regulated for safety and quality in the UK.
Can vaping help you quit smoking
Vaping is an effective way of quitting smoking with the NHS saying it has helped thousands of people quit the habit. And evidence does suggest that most vapers are smokers or former smokers, rather than non-smokers starting a new habit.
‘However, you then have to decide whether to wean yourself off vaping because it’s another habit with potential health consequences in the long-term,’ says Dr Jenny.
What are the health concerns of vaping?
Although you’re not inhaling tar or tobacco, which are proven to cause cancer, you are still inhaling chemicals, although these are at a far lower level than the ones found in cigarettes.
Even the NHS says:
‘Vaping is not completely risk-free, but it poses a small fraction of the risk of smoking cigarettes. The long-term risks of vaping are not yet clear.’
Cancer Research echoes this, adding that as well as potential long-term effects, there are also side effects from vaping.
These include, ‘throat and mouth irritation, headache, cough and feeling sick. These side effects tend to reduce over time with continued use. We don’t know yet what effects they might have in the long term.’
As there’s no research to show they’re safe to use during pregnancy, it’s a good idea not to vape if you’re expecting.
‘Talk to your GP about other nicotine replacement options,’ says Dr Jenny.
As for passive vaping, Cancer Research says, ‘as vaping is still relatively new, we can’t be sure there aren’t any long-term effects to people who breathe in someone else’s vapour. But this is unlikely to be harmful.’
What are the laws around vaping?
In the UK, you have to be over the age of 18 to buy and use vapes and you can legally vape indoors, depending on the rules of the particular workplace or establishment.
E-cigarettes contain a vape cartridge, which can’t have too high a concentration of nicotine. The government is now under pressure to ban fruit-flavoured vapes, which appeal to young people, who then get addicted to the habit.
If you need help or support with quitting smoking, there are other options other than vaping.
Talk to your GP or use the NHS Stop Smoking services near you, to help you quit.