E-cigarettes: a double-edged sword in the battle to stop smoking

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Turning Point Hammersmith & Fulham’s Stop Smoking service lead Stephen Adeniyi discusses the ongoing debate surrounding electronic cigarettes, which has polarised opinions of their use to stop smoking over the last decade.

While e-cigarettes have been embraced as a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarette smoking by some, others raise concerns about their potential to create new addictions and the long-term health effects.  
The blog explores the key differences between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes, the benefits they offer in helping smokers quit, and the concerning rise of e-cigarette use among young people.  

The difference between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes 

Traditional cigarettes are notorious for containing over 5000 ingredients, 63 of which are linked to various types of cancers. Interestingly, nicotine, the addictive component, is not among these harmful ingredients. It’s the combustion of these substances that releases toxins, causing severe health effects. As the late Michael Russell (Scottish Politician) famously said, “People smoke for the nicotine, but they die from the tar.” 

In contrast, e-cigarettes do not contain tar. Most e-cigarettes consist of nicotine, various flavourings, sweeteners, vegetable glycerin, and propylene glycol. Instead of combustion, e-cigarettes function by heating the device, releasing nicotine and other components in the vapour. This heat-based mechanism is considered a healthier option, though not entirely risk-free. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about the unknown long-term impact of e-cigarettes on health, especially for those who have never smoked. 

Are e-cigarettes stopping people smoke traditional cigarettes? 

One of the most compelling arguments in favour of e-cigarettes is their potential to aid smokers in quitting. In the year 2020-2021, e-cigarette use was associated with the highest success rates (64.9%) in smoking cessation services, compared to attempts made without vaping devices (58.6%). A noteworthy clinical trial led by Peter Hajek from Queen Mary University of London found that e-cigarettes doubled the success rate of quitting compared to gum or other aids. 

Is vaping creating new addictions? 

Concerns are mounting regarding the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes among young people. In the UK, the percentage of young people using e-cigarettes has risen by 50% year over year, from one in 13 to one in nine, according to a recent report by Action on Smoking and Health UK (ASH). In 2023, 20.5% of adolescents aged 11 to 17 have tried e-cigarettes, up from 13.9% in 2020 and 15.8% in 2022. This upward trend is likely influenced by heightened e-cigarette awareness campaigns both in retail establishments and online. 

Among adults, the prevalence of e-cigarette use in 2023 is at its highest ever, with 9.1% of adults, totalling 4.7 million users. ASH’s August 2023 report indicates that 56% (2.7 million) of e-cigarette users are ex-smokers, 37% (1.7 million) are current smokers, and 320,000 people have never smoked before. 

Are e-cigarettes useful to help people stop smoking? 

E-cigarettes can serve as a valuable harm reduction tool to help individuals quit smoking traditional cigarettes. However, it is crucial not to promote them to people, especially young individuals, who have never smoked conventional cigarettes. Recent data highlights the concern that some current smokers and ex-smokers may have developed a new addiction to e-cigarettes.  

Whilst we support people to stop smoking this Stoptober, it is essential to strike a balance between recognising the potential benefits of e-cigarettes for smokers and addressing the growing issue of e-cigarette addiction among the youth. 

Want to learn more? 

Join our free webinar on Tuesday 17th October 2023 for Stoptober to hear from Turning Point’s Hammersmith & Fulham stop smoking experts and Liam Humberstone, Technical Director for Totally Wicked, the World’s Premier Vaping Retailer. 

Register here.

Need help to stop smoking? 

If you live in Hammersmith & Fulham, our stop smoking support workers are here to provide you free, confidential and non-judgemental support to help you quit smoking.  

Refer yourself today, by following this link.


This blog was originally published by Turning Point. You can read the original post here.

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