Vaping is helping bring around the demise of smoking

Queen Mary University London have carried out the most comprehensive study into whether vaping is a gateway into smoking, and the evidence has revealed that not only do e-cigarettes not promote smoking, but they are actually helping to speed up the demise of traditional cigarettes.

Vaping does not act as a gateway into smoking
The study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, aimed to identify whether access to alternative nicotine delivery methods such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco devices, and snus, promotes smoking.

As part of the study they analysed data from countries with similar smoking prevalence trajectories, but with different regulations. For example, for e-cigarettes the countries studied were the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia. Each of these countries has taken a very different approach to regulating vaping products, but all countries have seen a decline in smoking rates, indicating that there is no link between access to alternative nicotine delivery methods and an uptake in smoking.

One of the most common vaping myths is that it can be a gateway into smoking, despite the fact that there is a plethora of evidence that this is not the case. As discussed in our recent blog post ‘UK smoking rates at lowest since records began’, since vaping products became widely available in the UK smoking rates have continued a steady decline. The most recent data shows that in 2022 smoking rates are at 12.9%, or 6.4 million people. This is the lowest since records began in 2011, when smoking prevalence was at 20.2%.

Each year, as vaping rates increase, smoking rates continue to decline, and researchers at Queen Mary University of London found that there was “tentative” evidence that products like e-cigarettes might actually be speeding up the demise of smoking.

How vaping regulations can affect smoking rates
Another interesting finding from the data is that countries with different approaches to e-cigarette regulation saw differences in how quickly smoking rates declined.

In the UK we have taken a very strict but effective approach to vaping regulation, which has helped allow health authorities to be able to encourage smokers to consider an e-cigarette as a much less harmful alternative to smoking. This includes restrictions on the ingredients which can be used in e-liquids, the bottle sizes that nicotine-containing e-liquids can be sold in, and a 20 mg/ml nicotine strength cap, among others. Whereas, in Australia there has been a substantially different approach to the regulation of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, which are only available on prescription.

While the UK Government have embraced the benefits that e-cigarettes can have as a stop smoking aid, even announcing their new ‘swap to stop’ scheme which will provide 1 million smokers with an e-cigarette, the Australian Government have not, and are more reliant on traditional nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) like nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges.

These differing approaches correlate to a difference in the speed at which smoking rates in the two countries are declining. The decline in smoking rates has been substantially slower in Australia than in the UK, further suggesting a link between the utilisation of e-cigarettes and the decline in smoking prevalence.

Tackling vaping myths
The gateway myth is not the only misconception that surround vaping, and unfortunately many people still hold incorrect beliefs around the safety of e-cigarettes relative to smoking.

Thanks to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities we know that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking, however, a recent Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) survey identified that 39% of smokers wrongly believe that vaping is as harmful, or more so, than smoking.

Speaking on the importance of tackling vaping misconceptions, Hazel Cheeseman, Deputy Chief Executive of ASH said:

“The Government has backed a vaping strategy as its path to reduce rates of smoking, but this approach will be undermined if smokers don’t try vapes due to safety fears or stop vaping too soon and revert to smoking. The Government must act quickly to improve public understanding that vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking.”

These misconceptions could be preventing millions of smokers from successfully quitting smoking with the help of an e-cigarette, so ensuring that the facts around vaping are widely available and clearly stated is of the utmost importance.

To this end, ASH released their brief ‘Addressing common myths about vaping’ which provides reliable evidence against these misconceptions, offering an excellent resource for the public, media, and officials which is accessible and understandable. You can find out more about it in our blog post ‘39% of smokers falsely think vaping is as harmful as smoking’.

How can vaping help with smoking cessation?
The hardest part about giving up smoking is finding a way to manage nicotine cravings and avoid nasty withdrawal symptoms. Having a stop smoking aid like an e-cigarette can greatly increase your chances of a successful quit attempt. E-cigarettes offer a clean alternative nicotine delivery system which replicates the feel and act of smoking.

The reason that vaping is so much less harmful than smoking is that e-cigarettes do not produce the countless harmful chemicals and carcinogens that are released in cigarette smoke, such as tar, carbon monoxide, and arsenic. A recent study from Brunel University London suggests that smokers who made the switch to vaping would have a 70% reduction in smoking-related diseases, as they would no longer be exposed to the harmful substances from tobacco smoke.

E-cigarettes allow you to effectively manage nicotine cravings during a stop smoking attempt, and e-liquids are available in a range of different nicotine strengths which allow you to tailor the strength to best meet your own needs. In fact, a recent Cochrane review found e-cigarettes to be twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapies like patches and gum for smoking cessation, and a subsequent review confirmed that vaping is as effective at helping smokers quit as stop smoking medications like Champix.

Unlike many other smoking alternatives, vaping can also replace the physical act of smoking, as you continue the same hand to mouth action and are inhaling a vapour in the same way that you would have previously inhaled smoke. This helps replace the habit as well as address the nicotine addiction. To assist with this, starter vape kits are designed to replicate the feel of smoking using the airflow design, so it feels familiar and comfortable to new users.

At a glance
·A comprehensive Queen Mary University London study found that there is no link between access to e-cigarettes and the uptake of smoking, showing vaping is not a gateway into smoking

·The study found that there was “tentative” evidence that products like e-cigarettes might actually be speeding up the demise of smoking

·“The Government has backed a vaping strategy as its path to reduce rates of smoking... The Government must act quickly to improve public understanding that vaping poses a fraction of the risk of smoking.” - Hazel Cheeseman, Action on Smoking and Health