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E-Cigarettes: The facts

February 11, 2016 3 min read

E-cigarettes are becoming a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes but there remains some mystery around them. BMI Healthcare looks at the facts.

The e-cigarette has become the modern way to smoke, with more than 2.6 million people in the UK now using the devices1. This number has grown almost fourfold since 2010. Despite the rise in popularity, not everybody is completely sure how they work and the health benefits compared to traditional cigarettes.

The basic difference between the two is that when you light a cigarette it burns tobacco to release smoke containing nicotine and other chemicals. E-cigarettes instead heat liquid nicotine directly to generate a vapour that can be inhaled.

Why is tobacco bad?

It has been proven that regular tobacco use shortens your life span by an average of ten years.1 It also causes 80% of lung cancer deaths and increases the chance of having a stroke by three times.1 All of this damage is caused by the 7,000 or so chemicals that exist in cigarette smoke, many of which are toxic.1

Even non-smokers can be affected, with tobacco smoke remaining in the air for around two and a half hours. This means non-smokers can inhale the chemicals as well, with an estimated 600,000 global deaths a year attributed to passive smoking.1

Are e-cigarettes better for you?

Recent research by Public Health England revealed that e-cigarettes are approximately 95% less harmful than tobacco2. This is largely due to the much lower levels of toxic chemicals. The latest research also suggests that e-cigarette vapour produces much less nicotine and minimal toxins, which makes them safer for those around you as well.

Smoking normal cigarettes creates a smelly odour that lingers in the air and a messy ash that can fall on carpets and clothes. It can also turn your teeth and fingers yellow, and make your skin age prematurely. With an e-cigarette there’s no smoke, no ash and no lingering odour. The results are stain-free fingers and teeth and skin that reflects your age. In an attempt to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, e-cigarettes could even be made available by the NHS on prescription as a means of quitting smoking. This will happen once they are regulated as medical products, which is expected in 20162.

Will they save you money?

The financial cost of smoking is another issue to consider. As the taxation around cigarettes continues to increase it becomes more and more expensive. The current cost of 20 cigarettes is around the £9 mark, which will equate to more than £3,000 a year for those who smoke 20 a day.1

In comparison, an e-cigarette starter kit starts from around £20 with refills around the £2-4 mark, giving you the equivalent of 25 cigarettes. So in terms of costs, each refill will save you about £5 compared to a pack of 20. Across the year this could see a saving of almost £2,000.1

Are there any negatives compared to cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are still quite new to the market, so we can’t be 100% sure about the health impacts, but there have been a few concerns raised by experts.

One of these is that the e-cigarette vapour might contain traces of cancer-causing chemicals such as formaldehyde. Traces of toxic metals such as nickel could also be present. Inhaling these over a long period of time could lead to health problems. It’s also a concern that the nicotine in e-cigarette vapour is still very addictive. Nicotine addiction can lead to anxiety issues as well as blood vessel problems. This is yet to be proven by any official research though, and it is generally accepted that e-cigarettes offer a lower health risk.

While smoking e-cigarettes may be safer than standard cigarettes, there is a concern that it could provide a gateway to smoking and normalise the activity again. Much work has been done to eliminate smoking from public places but as it becomes more socially acceptable to vape, this trend could transfer into ‘proper’ smoking once again. At the moment just 0.2% of non-smokers have started vaping so there is no real evidence that this is occurring just yet.1