The rise of the e-cigarette

Smoking is the largest preventable cause of premature mortality in the UK. With more and more people ‘vaping’ (the action of smoking an electronic cigarette), the popularity of e-cigarettes has increased at a much faster rate than our knowledge of the possible health benefits, and side effects.

It is estimated that around 10 million adults smoke in Britain. In May 2015 a survey conducted by ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) estimated that 2.6 million adults in Great Britain use e-cigarettes, with nearly two out of five being ex-smokers and three out of five current smokers.

Research conducted by the NatCen Social Research and National Foundation for Educational Research has shown the popularity of e-cigarettes in 2014 amongst school pupils. Out of the 6173 pupils surveyed, 22% admitted to having vaped at least once. The research actually found that pupils are trying out ‘vaping’ more than they are trying, and using, cigarettes. Between 2010 and 2014 the number of current smokers using e-cigarettes rose from 2.7% to 17.6% (ASH). However, this number has not increased in 2015 but the number of ex-smokers using e-cigarettes rose from 4.5% to 6.7% from 2014 – 2015. This has got be a good thing right?

As the use of e-cigarettes is still in its early days, we cannot tell what the long terms effects of them will be. One study on mice found that vapour exposure generated the release of toxic chemicals in their bodies, leading to mild damage to their lungs and immune systems. The mice were subjected to bacterial and viral infections following vapour exposure, which led the harmful effects of e-cigarette smoke to be more pronounced. The bacterial exposure meant the mice were less able to clear away the bacteria from their lungs and the viral infection led to weight loss, an impaired immune response and sometimes death. As scary as this may seem, these findings have been widely disputed as the mice were subjected to levels of vapour intended only for humans.

Cigarette smoke

Generally, e-cigarettes are thought to be less harmful than real cigarettes as they contain no tobacco, but still contain the addictive substance nicotine. This lack of tobacco lends itself to the theory that e-cigs are better for you as smokers die from tar particles and toxic gases drawn into the body from smoking, rather than nicotine.

People smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar

Professor Michael Russell (1976)

With e-cigarettes users inhale a smoke-like consisting largely of propylene glycol and glycerine, the level of nicotine is around one tenth of that generated in a normal cigarette. However the dangers of nicotine cannot be ignored. It has been found to be a large risk factor in heart attack; raising blood pressure, speeding up your heart and has been considered a vasoconstrictor (making it more difficult for your heart to pump blood through your arteries).

Cigarette time bomb

Overall the introduction of e-cigarettes has had a positive influence in terms of lowering numbers of people starting to smoke, and also helping those who have smoked for years to lessen heir tobacco intake. But as previously mentioned it is too early to call the true health benefits and possible dangers of e-cigarettes. Only time will tell.


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