E-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products
Everywhere you go these days, people seem to be vaping. What’s it all about, and why are so many people trying it out? Should we be worried?
One reason more people are vaping is that e-cigarettes and other smokeless tobacco products are not regulated in the same way as other tobacco products at the moment, so the tobacco and vaping industries are promoting and selling their products everywhere – online, in retail shops, on television, radio and promotional events. They are likely to keep doing this until the Government passes new legislation. The Ministry of Health is expected to consult on draft legislation through Select Committee Hearings in mid-late 2019.
Tobacco smoking is the main cause of cancer and early deaths in New Zealand, and reducing smoking rates is the main priority of the Cancer Society’s prevention work. There is some evidence that e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking, but there is also concern about young people vaping and starting to smoke. We decided to find out more about these products so we could contribute to the debate about how to regulate them. We completed a comprehensive, peer-reviewed evidence-based review on e-cigarette and smokeless tobacco products (ECs) between January and July 2019.
Q & A
The answers to the following common questions are based on the findings of the review
What is vaping?
Vaping is the process of inhaling vapour produced by an e-cigarette. There are many different kinds of e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, and more being developed all the time. The vapour is produced by heating an ‘e-liquid’, which becomes vapour (atomised) inside the vaping device.
Is vaping safe?
It’s well-known that smoking ordinary cigarettes is very harmful – for the smoker and those close by who are breathing in the smoke. About half of all smokers will die from a disease caused by smoking.
Although vaping is safer than cigarette smoking, it is a relatively new product, so there’s not a lot known about the health risks. But there is a lot of research being done, and already there is enough scientific evidence about links to respiratory diseases like asthma for international medical organisations to be very worried. So, if you’re a non-smoker, don’t start vaping.
There are potential health risks linked to some of the chemicals found in vaping products, such as formaldehyde, and other known carcinogens.
The long-term safety of inhaling some of the flavouring substances is unknown, due to the rapid growth in new flavours available.
Isn’t nicotine harmless?
Nicotine is definitely not harmless. It might not cause cancer, but it’s an addictive substance that harms cognitive development in children and young people and pre-disposes them to becoming addicted to other substances. Some high-nicotine podvapes such as JUUL can result in people consuming much higher levels of nicotine than in cigarettes, with associated mental health issues that are now being studied. There are no benefits to being addicted to nicotine, and nobody needs nicotine.
Is vaping effective in smoking cessation?
There is some research that shows vaping can be effective to help people quit smoking, but this is not strong. There is only one randomised controlled trial that showed e-cigarettes were more effective than some nicotine replacement therapy products (not others) if they were made available in the context of comprehensive stop smoking programmes that also included face-to-face counselling. Research shows that the majority of smokers who start vaping to quit smoking find that they end up smoking and vaping. Dual use is unlikely to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and other smoking-related diseases. The best approach is to stop smoking and stop vaping.
Can vaping lead to smoking?
There is strong evidence from big international longitudinal studies that young people who vape are about four times more likely to start smoking within 12 months than their peers who don’t vape. Many of these young people would not have started smoking if they had not become addicted to nicotine through vaping.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start vaping.