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Debunking the Myths of Ecigs

University of East Anglia academics attack the myths surrounding vaping.

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University of East Anglia (UEA) academics noted a sizeable rise in the number of people wanting to help with a study following our coverage of Doctor Caitlin Notley’s presentation on ‘Electronic Cigarettes For Avoiding Relapse’. Now the UEA is combatting myths surrounding vaping and has contacted POTV to help spread the message.

Dr. Emma Ward writes: “In addition to the survey, we have been conducting in-depth interviews with people who used e-cigs to quit smoking (the research featured in Mawsley’s article) and we have been conducting some observations in vape shops (more details here). We hope to publish the results of our research in the next few months.”

The Ecig Research department has recently started a YouTube channel, the first four videos deal with the myths surrounding vaping. They are also looking for more people to complete their online survey so if you get some time spare today then please do complete it -

We have transcribed the videos below as well as embedding them for you.

MYTH 1: 'Vaping is just as bad as smoking tobacco'

Q: Is vaping safe?

A: Well, smoking tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death and we know that in the UK approximately 100,000 people die every year as a direct result of smoking.  So in comparison to smoking tobacco vaping can be considered to be much safer.  A landmark report produced by Public Health England in 2015 reviewed all the available research evidence at the time and suggested that, in comparison to smoking tobacco, vaping is 95% less harmful to health.  So following that report we now have guidance to doctors, to stop smoking professionals, that suggests that if people want to stop smoking and choose to use an ecigarette they should be supported to do that as a safer alternative to smoking.  And even for groups that are particularly concerned about the potential harms of vaping, say for example pregnant women, we now have guidance that suggests that if they choose to give up smoking by vaping they should be encouraged to do so as a safer alternative.  Clearly the best option, the safest option, would be not to vape and not to consume any potentially addictive substance at all, but in comparison to tobacco smoking, vaping is certainly the safer alternative.

Q: Are there toxic cancer-causing chemicals in the eliquid?

A: Well there have been news reports about possible links between some eliquid flavourings and cancer-causing properties or carcinogens. A lot of these news reports have been over sensationalised.  There is some available evidence just emerging and based on laboratory studies in animals mainly, that has linked some particular compounds, in particular flavourings, to properties that would cause irritant to the lungs. So in particular we know that the butterscotch flavouring and cherry flavourings might be ones that we want to avoid.  But I think it is important to emphasise that these are studies based on laboratory experiments with animals, so we also have evidence from real life settings. A recent study conducted at UCL found that real world toxicant exposure, so exposure to harmful cancer-causing chemicals, was no different amongst people who chose to vape and amongst non-smokers.  So our advice based on emerging evidence would be that you should take a cautious approach and certainly avoid any particular flavourings for which research evidence shows might be lung irritants.  These flavouring were originally designed as food grade flavourings, they were never designed to be inhaled into the lungs, so it is right to take a cautious approach.  However, we wouldn't recommend that if you have stopped smoking by vaping that it is better to go back to smoking, it is certainly not, it's certainly less harmful to health to continue to vape than to go back to smoking.

Q: What are the risks of exposure to second hand vape?

A: Well a recent study conducted under very extreme conditions in a vape shop where there was lots of vape that stayed in the atmosphere actually found no direct evidence to show that bystanders had any impact from being exposed to that second hand vape.  In a real-world setting vape certainly doesn't stay in the atmosphere as long as tobacco smoke would, so any exposure is likely to be much less prolonged than exposure to tobacco smoke and there is no evidence that we have at the moment to suggest that that brief exposure to second hand vape has any impact on health at all.

Q: How can vapers get involved in research?

A: Well we really want to hear the views of people that have given up smoking by vaping, whether or not they find that they have gone back to smoking.  So you can look at our website which is - there's an online survey that you could complete and we'd really like to hear from you.

MYTH 2: 'Vaping is more addictive than tobacco'

Q: By switching to ecigarettes are smokers just maintaining their addiction?

A: Well ecigarettes are a substitution option for people that used to smoke so people switching to vaping is a much safer way of consuming the drug, which is nicotine.  Nicotine in and of itself isn't a particularly harmful drug to consume, it's been likened to addiction to caffeine, so if you are a regular coffee drinker you may find that you need to keep drinking coffee otherwise you would suffer withdrawal and you would have a headache and feel unwell perhaps for a couple of days, and nicotine is similar.  Nicotine as a drug is a stimulant so it causes a slight increase in heart rate, for most people that is completely safe but clearly if you were someone that was at high rigk of cardio vascular symptoms you wouldn't want to be consuming a stimulant drug that may increase your heart rate and may put you at risk of having a heart attack.  But for most people of course that is not a problem.  So the research that we are undertaking at the moment is seems to be finding that people find that switching to vaping an easier way of stopping smoking than ways that they have tried in the past.  So although there is some level of maintenance to addiction to nicotine there offers a safer alternative and also is attractive to people in that they are able to continue in their social groups and continue in the rituals that they enjoyed about smoking, so getting their break from their daily lives, enjoying the hand to mouth behavioural action that they enjoyed when they were a smoker.

Q: People in our research are concerned that they are vaping more frequently than they used to smoke cigarettes - is this a problem?

A: Well our ongoing research is certainly finding that people seem to report vaping in sometimes in much different patterns to how they used to smoke.  So people tell us that they vape more frequently or graze and tend to vape little and often whereas when they were smokers they might smoke a certain amount of cigarettes a day and smoke the whole cigarette and then have a break until the next cigarette.  We do know from emergent research that actually the patterns of vaping are adaptive at helping people to maintain their level of blood nicotine, so smokers would experience highs and lows in terms of their blood nicotine - the blood nicotine level goes up very high when they have a cigarette and dips down very low between times of not smoking.  What is quite important to note is that if there are any potential harms of vaping due to the flavourings that are added to the eliquid then it maybe something to consider to use a higher dose of nicotine and to vape less often in order to maintain your nicotine levels rather than to try and use a lower dose of nicotine and find that you are vaping much more frequently.

Q: How hard is it to give up vaping? 

A: Well we don't really know the answer to that question.  What we are finding in our ongoing research is we've got a number of examples of people who have managed to stop smoking through using an ecigarette and then they have gone on to successfully stop smoking as well.  It's really a matter of personal choice. Being addicted to nicotine through vaping in and of itself is not particularly harmful to health.  But if it's something that you are not comfortable with or others around you are not comfortable with then you may want to consider stopping.  Obviously the best thing to maintain a healthy lifestyle is not to be consuming any addictive substance so you may want to stop vaping and look at the patterns of health behaviours.

MYTH 3: 'E-cigarettes are really dangerous to use'

Q: We hear that ecigarettes explode and can cause fires.  What could vapers do to avoid that?

A: Well in England around 250 domestic fires every year result in death and about 36% of them are directly caused by cigarette smoking.  So considering that nearly half of all smokers choose to stop smoking by using an ecigarette one could say that ecigarettes are actually causing a reduction in the number of domestic fires every year.  There have been a few isolated cases of ecigarette batteries causing fires, and this is normally due to contact with other metals.  So people are advised not to carry an electronic cigarette in their pocket containing change.  We would always recommend that for fire safety, first of all people don't smoke tobacco and secondly, if they choose to vape, they always follow the manufacturer's instructions in terms of charging the batteries - so always use the recommended charger and never leave a device unattended while it's charging.

MYTH 4: 'Vaping encourages non-smokers to take up smoking'

Q: Are young people likely to take up vaping and then go on to smoking?

A: Well there is no evidence at all to suggest that people that try vaping go on to become regular smokers.  What we know is that most vapers are current or ex-smokers.  So in fact you might say that people that try smoking are more likely to go on and try vaping.  When we look at young people and risk behaviours it's true that teenagers are likely to engage in a variety of risk behaviours, so they might try drinking alcohol, they might try smoking tobacco or taking illicit substances, or they might try vaping.  What is important to remember is that most young people will try these behaviours once or twice and trying something doesn't mean that they will go on to become a regular user.  So even if a young person tries an ecigarette they are unlikely to go on to become a regular vaper, and if they do go on to become a regular vaper there is no evidence to suggested that they will go on to become a regular smoker.  While we would clearly not want to encourage any young person to try vaping if they've never tried it before there are some unknowns about some of the chemicals in eliquids and if you have never been exposed to tobacco smoke clearly you wouldn't want to expose yourself to any of those potential risks.

The survey to help with their research can be found here

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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