Vaping: What you need to know about e-cigarettes

Vaping, popular with teenagers and young adults, has been heralded as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, but what do you need to know about it?

Sky News takes a look following the death of a patient with a serious lung disease, which is being treated as the first in the US linked to vaping.

What is a vape?

E-cigarettes, also known as vapourisers or vapes, are electronic devices which produce nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke.

They do not burn tobacco, produce tar or carbon monoxide. They do contain nicotine, which is addictive but relatively harmless.

Public Health England says: “E-cigarette vapour does not contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. It does contain some chemicals also found in tobacco smoke, but at much lower levels.”

How many types are there?

There are three main types:

  • Cigalikes, which look like cigarettes and are often disposable
  • Vape pens, which are shaped like a pen and have a small tank to store the e-liquid which is heated to create the vapour
  • Mods, which are like vape pens but are bigger with longer-lasting batteries

Is vaping better for you than smoking cigarettes?

Vaping only poses a fraction of the risk of smoking, experts from King’s College London, the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, the University of Stirling and Cancer Research UK have concluded.

Both the NHS and Public Health England (PHE) support the use of e-cigarettes over smoking cigarettes, with PHE suggesting last year that hospitals should sell e-cigarettes and provide patients with vaping lounges to encourage people to make the switch.

In 2015, PHE’s research showed that vaping is around 95% less harmful than smoking.

Experts estimate that 20,000 smokers who take up e-cigarettes are quitting smoking each year.

But research has found they carry their own risks.

Are e-cigarettes harmful?

In the UK, e-cigarettes are tightly regulated to ensure they are as safe as possible to use.

Nonetheless, a growing number of studies have been carried out to examine the risks of vaping and e-cigarettes and in 2017, MPs began an inquiry into the health effects to see how the law could address “significant gaps” in existing research.

It has gone on to note “there is clear evidence that e-cigarettes are substantially less harmful than conventional cigarettes” but that “there are uncertainties, nevertheless, especially about any long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, because the products have not yet had a history of long use”.

In the same year, scientists inked vaping devices containing nicotine to increases in blood pressure, heart rate and stiffening in arteries after 30 minutes of use. E-cigarettes without nicotine did not have similar effects on those who took part in the experiment.

The damage that can be caused by nicotine in vapes was also looked at in a study reported on in 2018, which found it may damage DNA in ways that could cause cancer.

Not much research has been carried out on the effects of vaping while pregnant, but if an expectant mother is finding it hard to quit the NHS recommends vaping over smoking. However, the use of nicotine patches and gum are seen as the best option.

There have also been reports of e-cigarettes exploding and catching fire, including an instance which left a man dead.

Is the vapour harmful?

According to the NHS: “So far, there is no evidence that vaping causes harm to other people around you. The available evidence indicates that any risk of harm is extremely low, especially when compared with secondhand tobacco smoke.”

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