No doubt you will have seen some of the stories in the media recently following the publication of PHE’s latest update of the evidence on e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes do get some bad press and we need to address the many myths in this sector.
Not surprisingly, there are lots of inaccuracies and misconceptions about e-cigarettes and vaping. This blog looks at the most common myths and provides the facts from Public Health England.
PHE’s latest comprehensive independent e-cigarette review, authored by leading academics in the tobacco control field, takes a look at the most up-to-date international data and peer-reviewed research.
Despite the sometimes confused, and confusing, media reporting around the safety of e-cigarettes, there is growing consensus around the evidence. Although they are not without some risk, e-cigarettes are still far less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
This view is supported by a number of key bodies, including Cancer Research UK, Action on Smoking and Health, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association and (most recently) a major US science body known as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Myth 1: E-cigarettes give you ‘popcorn lung’
One of the most commonly held concerns is that e-cigarettes might cause ‘popcorn lung’. This came about because some flavourings used in e-liquids to provide a buttery flavour contain the chemical diacetyl, which at very high levels of exposure has been associated with the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans.
The condition gained its popular name because it was initially observed among workers in a popcorn factory.
However, diacetyl is banned as an ingredient from e-cigarettes and e-liquids in the EU. It had been detected in some e-liquid flavourings in the past, but at levels hundreds of times lower than in cigarette smoke. Even at these levels, smoking is not a major risk factor for this rare disease.
Myth 2: E-cigarettes aren’t regulated and we don’t know what’s in them
Ireland has some of the strictest regulation for e-cigarettes in the world. Under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, e-cigarette products are subject to minimum standards of quality and safety, as well as packaging and labeling requirements to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed choices.
All products must be notified by manufacturers to the relevant government body and the EU with detailed information including the listing of all ingredients.
Myth 3: E-cigarettes must be harmful as they contain nicotine
Some four out of 10 smokers wrongly think nicotine causes most of the tobacco smoking-related cancer, when evidence shows nicotine actually carries minimal risk of harm to health. Although nicotine is the reason people become addicted to smoking, it is the thousands of chemicals contained in cigarette smoke that causes almost all of the harm.
E-cigarettes do not contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. Although they do contain some chemicals found in tobacco smoke, they do so at much lower levels.
Myth 4: Exposure to e-cigarette vapour is harmful to bystanders
The evidence is clear that exposure to second hand smoke is harmful, which is why Ireland has laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces. However, these laws do not cover vaping and organisations are free to make their own policies on the use of e-cigarettes on their premises.
E-cigarette liquid is typically composed of nicotine, propylene glycol and/or glycerine, and flavourings. Unlike cigarettes, there is no side-stream vapour emitted by an e-cigarette into the atmosphere, just the exhaled aerosol.
PHE’s latest evidence review found that to date there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions can be sensitive to a range of environmental irritants, which could include e-cigarette vapour, and PHE advises organisations to take this into account and to make adjustments where appropriate.
Myth 5: E-cigarettes will encourage young people to smoking
Our report found no evidence so far to support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people. UK surveys show that young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes, but regular use is rare and confined almost entirely to those who already smoke. Meanwhile, smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to decline. PHE will continue to monitor the trends in e-cigarette use alongside those in smoking.
Myth 6: E-cigarettes are being used as a Trojan horse
There is currently no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are encouraging people to continue smoking – the picture in Ireland suggests the opposite. The proportion of e-cigarette users who are ex-smokers has been increasing over recent years.
In summary, e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes are not the same and shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s important that Ireland’s million smokers are aware of the differences and have accurate information to inform their health decisions. E-cigarettes aren’t completely risk free but carry a fraction of the risk of smoking and are helping thousands of smokers to quit and stay smoke free.
Information taken from PHE Website 2018 – Martin Dockrell
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