World No Tobacco Day: No, vaping is no answer to quitting cigarettes

E-cigarettes have recently become popular in India.

 |  4-minute read |   31-05-2018
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Roughly a year ago, a dear friend of mine took to vaping, because it is better than smoking cigarettes.

They don’t produce smoke, which has carcinogens that can lead to cancer, and the latest vaporisers, called mods and pens, or, colloquially, simply “vapes”, come with a no-nicotine option.

Though that’s not the one my friend is using, he can control the nicotine level in his mod to reduce its intake significantly. Vaping is his way of quitting smoking in (clearly very long) phases. Several studies have shown that smokers who switch to vaping are more likely to quit than those who stop smoking suddenly and entirely.

However, as I watch him blow pineapple-shaped clouds of vapour everywhere he goes, I worry that he is vaping much more than he was smoking. If you use a lower amount of nicotine far more frequently, logic says the end result will be the same. There is no real way of knowing this for sure unless I stalk him and do complex computations; he maintains that his nicotine intake is significantly lower but then nicotine addicts have been known to tell white lies.

Having been popular in the US and Europe for a while, vaping has become popular in India fairly recently. On the face of it, vaping is definitely better than smoking. Cigarette smoke has been found to have all sorts of chemicals, from cyanide (yes poison) to arsenic (yes, poison again) to the comparatively less harmful ammonia (cleaning agent).

Vaporisers have none of that as they produce vapour not smoke; eliminate second-hand smoking; and leave no smell in your hair. Plus, you cannot start a fire with a vaporiser unless you have special talent.

smoke-e_053118032620.jpg

va_053118032701.jpgSo far, the focus has been in comparing nicotine levels and vapour-and-smoke differences.

But because vapour doesn’t leave a smell and isn’t harmful for others, it is common to find people vaping indoors at home, or at parties. If you don’t have to disrupt what you are doing, you are likely to smoke more frequently – it is not tough to imagine a writer clanking away, blowing plumes of vapour constantly over many hours. Believing reports such as the one where a UK government study claimed, rather dubiously, that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking, people take to vaping at a much younger age. What’s worse: in January, a comprehensive study in the US concluded that vaping can prompt teenagers to take up smoking, exposing them to addictive nicotine at an early age.

The Bihar government recently banned vapes from being manufactured or sold in the state and the central government is seriously considering doing the same because vaping may be silently creating a whole new generation of future smokers. In the US, worried about vaporisers looking like candy or juice boxes, attracting children and teens, the Feds banned the marketing of certain types of vaporisers last month.

There are more than 7,000 flavours for vapes at last count, including rose, strawberry, popcorn, ginger ale and other tastes that are attractive to a younger crowd. It also adds to the coolness factor for a teenager. But some flavours of the vaporiser juice – a cocktail of liquid nicotine, food-grade chemicals, and flavouring – have diacetyle, known to give people a serious lung disease.

And if that doesn’t make you stop and think, there’s the sensational case from last week, when a vape pen exploded in a man’s hand and its projectiles pierced his skull, making it the first death caused by vaporiser explosion in the US. How safe does that sound? My friend would point out that it wasn’t the nicotine that got him.

That, after all, is the only conclusive argument in favour of vaping. There is definite evidence that vaping leads to reduced nicotine intake and so it follows that nicotine-related health risks are lower, too. But the concept of vaping is still new to the world and there have been no conclusive studies comparing the hazards of vaporisers and cigarettes holistically.

So far, the focus has been in comparing nicotine levels and vapour-and-smoke differences.

As vaping leads to other problems such as children being poisoned by swallowing the vape juice, early addictions, and vaporiser explosions, a serious cloud of doubt hangs over vaping being a good alternative to smoking. Its role in aiding quitting smoking for good remains in question, too.

While we wait for some definitive answers, I wish my friend would master a few new vapour cloud shapes.

Also read: Foods smokers must eat if they can't kick the habit

Writer

Kalyani Prasher Kalyani Prasher @kakulprasher

Reluctant writer + editor. | Reviews manuscripts + books. | Freelance. Travel. Food. News. Musix.

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