what are the risks of vaping?

Stoptober

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It’s officially October, and with the start of the new month comes Public Health England’s (PHE) annual Stoptober campaign, challenging smokers to go cigarette-free for the month. Stoptober is a fantastic initiative and one that we fully support here at DCA.

With that in mind, our clinical team was recently asked to contribute to the growing debate around the use of e-cigarettes (or vaping) as an alternative to smoking.

According to a YouGov survey commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), there are 2.9 million smokers in the UK currently using e-cigarettes, of which 1.5 million say they have completely stopped smoking tobacco as a result. The same research also suggests switching to e-cigarettes for 28-days results in smokers being five times more likely to quit for good.

While these stats are hugely impressive, they shouldn’t be read in isolation. We don't yet know the short, medium and long-term effects of vaping, given there are limited studies available and the effects have yet to be fully investigated; unlike cigarettes whose effects have been well researched and documented.

Vaping has, for example, received a lot of media attention recently due to stories emerging (mainly from the US) of ‘mysterious vaping illnesses’ and teenagers developing lung disease due to excessive use. But what are the myths and truths on this?

For starters, we know that vapes don't contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. But they do still contain some of the harmful carcinogens and chemicals found in tobacco smoke (albeit at much lower levels) which can have significant adverse health effects if consumed excessively.

Moreover, we know that use of the term ‘vape’ mischaracterises the products typically on offer, as it suggests water vapour is inhaled when actually, e-liquid is heated to create an aerosol that can cause liver and retinal damage.

We recognise these potential health risks but still don’t know the full extent of the potential damage. Therefore, more understanding of the short, medium and long-term effects of vaping is needed, so it's great to see the European Commission undertaking a detailed review; with a report on the potential risks set to be published by the end of 2020.

While vaping can be an effective tool for quitting smoking, the best way to stay ‘safe’ is, of course, to not smoke anything at all. But we do understand that addiction to nicotine isn't always that simple and that patients need smoking cessation support tailored specifically to them and their lifestyle.

If you have any concerns about smoking or e-cigarettes, or would like to quit but aren’t sure how, we recommend speaking to one of our GPs.

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