Janice took a long drag of her cigarette, then burst into a fit of coughing. She hawked up a gob of phlegm, before using a handkerchief it to pat it away with a grimace of disgust.
She turned, shuffling back into the hospital on her zimmer frame, shivering in the late winter drizzle.
“You ought to give up, love,” said a nurse from the ward as Janice paused, breathless, by the hospital doors. “You’re only 54 and you’ve already got emphysema.”
“I know,” said Janice between gasps. “But I’ve tried dozens of times over the years and I can’t.”
“Why don’t you try e-cigs,” said the nurse. “My brother tried them, and he hasn’t had a cigarette for 6 months.”
“Oh, I don’t know - aren’t they unhealthy?”
The above is a typical scenario going on all over the country. Smoking might be killing smokers, but there are so many misconceptions about e-cigarettes that they stick with the tobacco cigarettes estimated to kill between half and one third of their number.
That's a terrible shame, because as we saw last week both anecdotal evidence and hard data have shown that e-cigarettes can help smokers immensely, even in the short term:
So let’s have a go at clearing up some of those misconceptions!
1. Scaremongering news articles aren’t always true...
“E-Cigarettes Cause Lung Damage,” screamed newspaper headlines all over the world.
Except it wasn’t true, as scientists were quick to point out. In fact an unpublished study which had not been peer reviewed claimed e-cigs increased airway resistance (humid air does the same).
Unfortunately, most people do not have time to dig into the truth behind newspaper articles, and accept them as true.
So ever wonder where those hysterical articles in newspapers come from?
Unfortunately, there is a well-funded, and well-organised campaign to discredit electronic cigarettes (Tweet this). I believe that at least some stories originate from this campaign. To find out who and why, we need to listen to the old adage - follow the money.
So who do electronic cigarette threaten? Several of the most powerful interest groups in the world.
The amounts that governments make from tobacco taxation is staggering.
According to Statista, in 2017-18 the UK government made 12.3 billion pounds from VAT and excise taxes on tobacco. That number is several billion less than when we first wrote this blog post - probably due to the increasing number of vapers in the UK.
Statista also calculates that the USA raised 17.16 billion dollars at its peak in 2010. Meanwhile, Tobacco Free Kids estimate that individual states have received 425 billion dollars received from the tobacco industry - they spent just 2.6% of this on stop smoking programs.
The problem of lost revenue was highlighted when an Italian MEP asked the EU what it intended to do about the loss of tax revenue caused by ecigs replacing cigarettes.
Since then the EU has made an attempt to ban e-cigarettes. When that was rejected, they bundled together severe restrictions on e-cigs with legislation MEPs wanted passed - just one of which, according to economists at London Economics, will lead to an additional 9.6 million cigarettes being smoked per day (Tweet this).
ii. The Pharmaceutical Industry
Meanwhile, the billion dollar nicotine cessation market is in severe decline due to e-cigs.
It’s a threat that was highlighted by an industry body very early on in the development of e-cigs - in 2010 to be precise:
While that’s probably good for smokers (a number of studies show that NRT is no more effective than cold turkey, at least if not combined with additional support), it’s very bad for pharmaceutical companies.
That’s why we’ve seen millions of dollars in funding being awarded to charities that campaign against ecigs, funds being awarded to anti-nicotine extremists to conduct studies into ecigs as well as leaked memos from companies like GSK expressing worries.
Not only do some of these companies have budgets larger than small countries, they also have a track record of corruption. What’s more, as one scientist complained to me at the e-cigarette summit last year, scientists who support e-cigs face the very real risk of having their future research budgets cut.
iii. Tobacco Companies
Tobacco companies are more complex, despite the fact that e-cigarettes are hurting their profits.
Originally, they seemed to be clearly against electronic cigarettes, with warnings that the devices were not safe.
They’ve since tried to muscle into the electronic cigarette market, although so far their efforts have lost them money.
The current danger, according to Professor Etter in his 2015 ecig prediction for this blog, is that the tobacco industry will try to force out competitors through restrictive legislation, forcing users to use their cigalike devices putting them into a position to stifle the e-cig market in the future.
2. They are not a gateway to smoking
A key argument against electronic cigarettes is that they could potentially be a gateway to smoking.
Fortunately, in the UK, thanks to Action on Smoking and Health and The Smoking Toolkit, we have some of the best data in the world, and that data shows that less than one percent of non-smokers are taking up vaping (Tweet this).
3. Nobody wants children buying e-cigarettes
“Think of the children,” has been a rallying cry of the anti e-cig movement.
According to this movement, the e-cigarette industry is deliberately targeting children to get them hooked on nicotine young. So far, evidence has included the fact that some e-cigs are pink and that e-liquids are provided in a range of flavours.
But vapers like flavours too! In fact, a survey of 10,000 vapers by ECigaretteForum showed that only 22% of them chose to vape tobacco flavours:
In fact, some parents are desperate for their children to switch from cigarettes to vaping. But the industry self-regulated against selling to children long before governments considered it. Frankly, leaving aside arguments over whether children who already smoke should be allowed to vape, the issue is one of self-preservation. Selling e-cigs to children would be industry suicide (Tweet this).
4. The industry is already regulated
An unregulated industry?
In fact the electronic cigarette industry is already heavily regulated. Some of the regulations we have to comply with include:
- General Product Safety Regulations 2005, as amended by CHIP4, CLP and REACH in 2009.
- Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations (CHIP) 2009.
- Weights & Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations 2006.
- Plugs and Socket (Safety) Regulations 1994.
We’ve had several Trading Standards inspections over the years, and have frequently checked with Trading Standards to ensure that products are compliant before we introduce them. Trading Standards have also enforced the testing of e-liquid, and on occasions have forced its withdrawal when it some companies have been non-compliant.
That’s not to say there are never any problems. Trading Standards lack the budget and manpower to effectively enforce all regulations and sometimes they don’t understand the regulations they need to enforce.
However, many UK companies have also elected to be regulated by the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA), submitting to a 6 monthly audit. And ECITA are often way ahead of the curve with regulation - both a ban on children using e-cigs and mandatory testing of e-liquid was introduced by ECITA with more comprehensive testing than that required by Trading Standards.
5. Most vapers are polite and respectful
Sure, you get extreme examples of unacceptable vaper behaviour. But the vaper who gets unruly on a plane and gets himself arrested is no more representative of vapers than an aggressive drunk is of all alcohol drinkers.
And when we ran a survey of 1100 vapers, we found that the vast majority of them believed in being respectful towards vapers, non-vapers and smokers alike.
6. Many scientists believe they are far safer than tobacco cigarettes
“Safe doesn’t exist. But electronic cigarettes are low risk compared to regular cigarettes. It’s the equivalent of having a four-wheel-drive Volvo compared to a high-powered motorcycle with bald tires in an ice storm.” David Sweanor.
The majority of scientists involved in e-cigarette research don’t believe ecigs are 100% safe. But they do believe that e-cigarettes carry a tiny fraction of the risk of tobacco cigarettes.
(Since this blog post was originally written, Public Health England carried out a survey of the evidence and estimated that e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes.)
For a snapshot of what scientists think on e-cigs, check out:
7. Dozens of studies back up e-cigarette safety
We’re often told that electronic cigarettes have not been studied.
While that may have been the case a few years ago, that’s simply not the case now.
Some of the dozens of studies that have been carried out include studies on:
- impurities in e-cigs
- effects of e-cigs on the lungs
- effects of e-cigs on the blood
- e-cigs as a potential gateway to cigarettes
- the attraction of e-cigs to children
A great introduction to e-cig studies is our list of 20 Top E-Cig Studies That Prove The Doubters Wrong.
8. Most malfunctions are caused by misuse
E-Cigarette explosions have reached the news in both the US and the UK many times.
But most problems have been caused by a simple reason, one highlighted by the UK fire service again and again - using an electronic cigarette battery with a charger that was not designed to take them. (iPhone chargers seem to be the worst culprit.) Even so, the London Fire Brigade estimates that smokers are 266 times more likely to have a fire than a smoker.
Mechanical mods are a different case. These have no electrical protection, usually come with strong warnings and are only suitable for modders who know what they are doing.
For more information on batteries - and how to avoid battery danger - click here.
9. Banning them WILL cost lives
Another alternative to tobacco cigarettes is banned in almost all of Europe.
That alternative is Snus. And in the one country where it is legal, lung cancer rates in men are HALF those in the rest of the EU.
The EU is keen to repeat its mistake, but what would the consequences be?
Economists at London Economics wanted to know what the impact of just one of the EU’s restrictions on ecigs, the ban on higher nicotine eliquids. So they sat down and crunched the numbers.
10. Vaping is NOT smoking
“I’ve switched to e-cigs!”
“So you’re still smoking?”
When we asked on social media what the most common misconception about vaping was, this was one that kept coming back!
Some people assume that because e-cigarettes (at least the cigalike ones) look like cigarettes, and because the vapour looks like smoke, people are still smoking.
But they’re not.
Smoking involves the combustion (burning) of tobacco leaves. Scientists tell us that this is what is bad about smoking (the combustion more than the tobacco - it doesn't matter what you burn, smoke is bad for you).
Vaping involves heating up a liquid to produce vapour. Although it can sometimes contain nicotine (not all e-liquids do!), there is no combustion involved.
And if using nicotine patches is not smoking (at least if used in the manner intended!) neither is vaping!
Over to you
I bet you can think of many, many more misconceptions - if you can, let me know in the comments below!
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Thank you ;)
Strategic Investment of Tobacco Tax Revenue, Tobacco Free Kids
STOPTOBER: Firefighters urge smokers to vape to prevent fires, London Fire Brigade, October 2018
Use of electronic cigarettes (vapourisers) among adults in Great Britain, ASH, 2014 (download)
Craver, R Reynolds, American wants FDA to ban vapor e-cigs, Winston Salem Journal
Ramada, P Impact of EU Ban on Higher Nicotine ECigarettes on Tobacco Smoking, London Economics, 2014
Siegel M. "Experts" from University of Athens Tell the Public They Are Not Sure if Smoking is Any More Hazardous than Vaping, Despite Lack of Demonstration of Clinically Significant Effects on Airways and Improvement in Respiratory Symptoms in Many Vapers, TobaccoAnalysis Blog September 2012