In recent years, the western world faced a considerable crackdown on the social acceptability of smoking cigarettes in public places such as the office, bars and clubs.
The drive to convince people to quit and to reduce tolerance for it in general stemmed from one thing alone, the health consequences of smoking were severe and for those countries with nationalised health services, expensive - too expensive.
A general move towards making the people of the country more healthy was seen as fiscally prudent management of finances and whilst other drives, such as the ‘eat more fruit and vegetables campaign’ were launched for similar reasons; quit smoking was always at the forefront of this effort.
Even in countries where governments themselves were not footing the bill the costs of lost productivity and revenue from people who were frankly not living out their natural span of years was a compelling enough reason to instigate the kind of social engineering that had not been seen since the days when cigarette companies themselves had been trying to convince people to smoke. And yet, none of the health warnings themselves centred on nicotine the substance that remains the primarily reason why people enjoy smoking.
Nicotine is a mild stimulant that like caffeine can aid in concentration and alertness; it is addictive and stimulates the pleasure centres of a user’s brain. Harmful only in extremely large doses, it was the delivery method itself that was causing the damage to user’s health; tar from the smouldering tobacco leaf, carbon monoxide gases and a dozen other harmful chemicals caused diseases that ranged from emphysema to lung cancer and a host of other unpleasant conditions, many of them fatal. Respiratory diseases and heart disease were amongst the most common effects of prolonged smoking but the risk of stroke was also greatly enhanced.
The project that began as an effort to improve the lives of its citizens was repeated all over the world, primarily because it was so very effective. To put it bluntly the social engineering worked. In 1980 39% of adults in the UK smoked a figure that dropped to 22% by 2006 and 20% by 2010. (http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB11454)
With such a success rate it was conceivable that smoking itself was to be pushed to the periphery of society and that the dark years of depressing smoking related figures were at last behind us. And so it was; associated health benefits ensued, with passive smoking in particular being virtually eliminated from public life.
But what of nicotine itself, the stimulant drug that was and is the main reason why people want to smoke? Various methods of ingesting nicotine have been tried over the years, some chewed tobacco, others sniffed it in the form of snuff but all of these methods had unpleasant side effects. Chewed tobacco stained the teeth and was associated with various forms or oral cancer.
Snuff is considered much safer than smoking an actual cigarette but nevertheless has some associated cancer risks and remains unpalatable to all but a select few.
But what of the new kid on the block commonly referred to as Vaping? A Product that has been gaining in popularity for some time now this 21st solution to the associated health problems that comes with lighting up has endured the focus of media attention and scientific study.
Vaping is a way of delivering nicotine electronically usually via a device called an e cigarette. The device itself consists of an atomizer, which vaporises a liquid solution made of glycol, vegetable glycerine and flavourings. Some e liquids also contain nicotine whilst others do not. Since the user is not burning what is essentially a dried leaf, none of the harmful chemicals that were commonly associated with traditional cigarettes are present.
But is it safe?
Whilst the body of research associated with traditional smoking products is immense, data on e cigarettes, which were after all invented just over 10 years ago, is less voluminous.
Preliminary data has however, been encouraging.a recent study by Dr Jonathon Folds for example concluded that “The major respiratory risks from smoking (lung cancer, COPD etc) don’t apply to smokeless tobacco at all.” Furthermore he maintained that studies on smokeless tobacco (i.e. Vaping) had lead expert groups to “estimate that smokeless tobacco is at least 90% less harmful than smoking.”
One of the problems with traditional tobacco products stemmed from associated lifestyles. The severe damage the respiratory system caused by smoke breathed into the lungs often created a disinclination to engage in physical exertion. Since the respiratory problems from smoking simply don’t apply to Vaping, it stands to reason that a healthier attitude to life remains possible in order to offset any associated risk that comes from nicotine use.
So are there any downsides? Well the jury is still out but it would seem that on balance no. Nicotine is addictive so anyone vaping over a protracted period of time will probably become addicted to them. Then again, non smokers who want to vape for social reasons probably aren’t going to opt for liquids that contain even small amounts of nicotine.
For those who are already smokers, making the switch to E cigarettes has several advantages and only one disadvantage. The disadvantage is obvious; those that continue to vape with nicotine will not be addressing their addiction in any way whatsoever. However, since for most, the downside to nicotine addiction stems from the associated health risks, it may well be that the e cigarette is a viable alternative.
Users who have struggled with quitting smoking can switch to e cigarettes simply on the basis that they are nowhere near as unhealthy as the real thing. Other associated benefits come from the social stigma that has been levelled at cigarettes in recent years.
Since they pose no ‘passive smoking’ risk they are acceptable in most restraints and cafes. They don’t smell in the way that real cigarettes do, nor do they stain fingers or furniture, so it’s OK to smoke them inside even if you have no smoking/vaping friends round.