E-cigarettes: A growing trend & health implications

30th Aug 2019
E-cigarettes: A growing trend & health implications

(Photo: Erica Crossen/ US Air Force)

E-cigarettes were marketed as a safer alternative for smokers and an aid to giving up smoking. Now vaping is a growing industry with a range of types and flavours available and the size of this market is predicted to grow significantly.

Whilst there has been a decline in nicotine use, as millions have quit smoking for health reasons, documents published by FTSE 100 giant British American Tobacco show the rise of e-cigarettes has led to more people getting hooked on nicotine products through vaping. Vaping has grown in popularity to the extent that e-cigarettes are helping tobacco firms to boost their revenues, as opposed to merely replacing lost income from falling cigarette sales.

So, what is vaping? A vaping device simulates smoking without burning tobacco. Vapour is produced by a vaporizer or electronic cigarette. Most vapers use e-liquids, but other common materials include waxy concentrates and dry herbs. The vapour in a vaporizer is formed from heating the e-liquid or herbs until they change into a gaseous form.

The vapour looks thicker than smoke but usually smells better due to flavours being added such as vanilla or cinnamon. E-liquid is the primary material used in vaporizers, and consists of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin base, flavourings and may or may not contain nicotine. Other alternatives to cigarettes include devices in which tobacco is heated rather than burned to reduce toxins. Devices that use nicotine can still be addictive.

One concern about the growing trend in vaping is that it is becoming increasingly popular among teenagers and other young people, creating a new market for tobacco companies. The range of fruit-flavoured vapers could be attractive to young people and some vaping liquids and devices have been criticized for using marketing material featuring cartoon characters and images of sweets.

According to a NHS report, the devices have been tried by a quarter of children aged 11 to 15. However, a report by Public Health England earlier this year stated that regular use (at least weekly) among 11 to 18-year-old remains low, reflecting a negative attitude young people have towards smoking. However, if vaping is perceived as being a ‘healthier’ alternative to smoking could it become attractive to young people?

Recently, there were concerns in America over the number of teenagers who were addicted to a type of vape called Juul. Even though you must be over 18 to purchase vaping products in the US (Same goes for the UK.), the US Surgeon General last year declared a “teen vaping epidemic”, with almost 5 million American high-schoolers vaping. The authorities said they felt they were drawn to the sweet flavours and the sleek design which made it easy to hide from parents and teachers.

Juul pods contain nicotine, which is an addictive substance. This led to Juul’s CEO, Kevin Burns, apologising to parents on July 2019, “I’m sorry their child is using the product,” he said. “It’s not intended for them.”

The company denied claims their product had been marketed at the youth audience but the level of vaping in teenagers caused great concern. In the UK, EU regulations mean that Juul’s flavour capsules, known as pods, contain only 1.7% nicotine, roughly a third of the amount in the US.

Another tobacco company, Imperial Brands, has predicted the global vaping market will grow between 300 and 500 per cent by 2025 with “limited impact” on its revenue from cigarettes. Given that it is a growing market it is important to ask are e-cigarettes safe? It is generally agreed that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes and can also be used as an aid to giving up smoking.

In 2015, Public Health England found that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than their combustible counterparts as there is none of the smoke, tar or carbon monoxide that make cigarettes so dangerous.

So, any smoker who uses cigarettes would be encouraged to switch to e-cigarettes. But many people who vape don’t or never have smoked cigarettes. So, what are the long-term effects of vaping? As E-cigarettes are relatively new there is no data for long-term use – and that concerns many in the health care sector.

Vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking – if you already smoke. However, certain e-cigarettes contain nicotine, albeit in much lower levels than cigarettes – but nicotine is addictive. There is also evidence that nicotine can harm the developing brains of kids and could affect memory and attention, it can harm unborn babies, so pregnant women should not use anything with nicotine. In addition, some e-cigarette flavours contain a chemical, diacetyl, which has been linked to “popcorn lung”, a disease characterised by irreversibly inflamed airways. There is also growing evidence that vaping increases the risk of some respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. Vaping may also be a gateway for people to start smoking.

E-cigarettes were promoted as an aid for giving up smoking and the consensus is they are a lot healthier than normal cigarettes. But now vaping seems to have become popular in its own right and with the range of products and flavours available the market is set to increase – certainly the Tobacco companies have put a lot of effort into manufacturing and marketing this new product and will continue to do so. With sales of e-cigarettes predicted to rise over the next few years, we do need to look at the possible long-term effects of vaping, especially in young people who may see vaping as something that has few health implications.

Rachel Kayani

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