The latest figures show that there are 2.3 million e-cigarette users in the UK. But one question that won’t seem to go away is “Is vaping safe?”. That doesn’t just depend on who you ask – it depends on what you mean by safe as well.
Half of those 2.3 million e-cigarette users say that they are using them to give up smoking. Another 20% of them are vaping because they see it as being safer than smoking. This is at the same time as vaping is increasingly being regarded by the public as risky or dangerous.
We’ve all heard stories about ‘popcorn lung’ and e-cigarettes catching fire. But we’ve probably all seen as many reports that experts say that vaping is 95% safer than tobacco. No wonder then that there is so much confusion over “Is vaping safe?”
Given that half the people using them are doing so to give up smoking that might be a useful thing to measure. But here as well there’s disagreement about how helpful they are. Many studies show that they don’t, but there are some problems with how they are conducted.
These studies tend to look at smokers who are using e-cigarettes as well to help them reduce and stop their smoking. They then re-interview them some months later and see if they have managed to stop smoking. These tend to show that people are still using cigarettes, and so they brand vaping as ineffective as an aid to stopping smoking.
A better, more robust trial, is to take a wider sample of people who want to stop smoking, and randomly decide whether they use e-cigarettes or not. These trials show that vaping does help people to reduce and to stop smoking cigarettes and tobacco. That much is confirmed by the latest Cochrane review of e-cigarettes. So, it helps people, but is vaping safe?
That of course rather depends on what you mean by safe. We don’t have the volume or length of data as Richard Doll had when he published the link between smoking and lung cancer. The evidence from the short to mid-term use of e-cigarettes so far is of a lack of side-effects. This is an area though where the absence of evidence doesn’t equal evidence of the absence of dangers.
However e-cigarette users do show the same positive changes in oxygen levels seen when people quit smoking completely. Whilst in that sense they are ‘safe’ it’s still inadvisable to inhale any chemical you don’t need to, and so it will always be safer not to vape – especially when the long term implications are still unknown.
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