Vaping is cleaner, cooler and healthier than smoking, say the makers of e-cigarettes, but should we believe them? As over 200,000 Irish smokers have made the switch, JESSICA WINDFALL decides to take a closer look.
To vape or not to vape? It’s a question many Irish smokers – like me – are asking themselves today. I have several regrets in my life, like blowing a substantial redundancy pay-out on fripperies, and once spending €1,900 on a personal trainer who was going to change my body shape (he didn’t), but these are tiny financial transgressions in comparison to the €1,825 my smoking habit costs me every year. Aligned to that is the terrible shame of being a member of a (literally) dying breed, while the majority of my friends and acquaintances have gotten the memo that smoking is one of the most stupid things a vaguely intelligent person can do. There is no escaping the fact that 5,200 people die from the effects of smoking every year in Ireland. It’s grim, and it’s avoidable. Do I want to quit? Of course I do. One in eight smokers feels the same way, according to QUIT, the campaign from the HSE that encourages smokers to ditch the habit. But I haven’t – yet – despite having gone down the Allen Carr, Nicorette and Champix (a prescribed drug that relieves cravings) routes.
Walk into any e-cigarette store and it’s like walking into a candy shop, with a range of flavours from regular tobacco and Red Bull to Irish cream and mint caramello.
On the surface, it seems like vaping could be the ￼￼answer for me and other would-be quitters. For the uninitiated, it involves using a device that contains a battery that heats a liquid solution, which can then be inhaled. They’ve replaced “cigalikes” (the first-gen e-cigs, which look more like real cigarettes and can be picked up in convenience stores) in popularity, and the ingredients in these e-liquids are PG (propylene glycol) and VG (vegetable glycerin), which create
the vapour, as well as nicotine, of which there’s usually a choice of strength. Walk into any e-cigarette store and it’s like walking into a candy shop, with a range of flavours from regular tobacco and Red Bull to Irish cream and mint caramello. You’re not getting any of the adverse effects of tobacco, you won’t stink of cigarettes, you’re not inflicting your second-hand smoke on others, and you’re saving yourself a lot of money – a starter device can cost just €12 and a bottle of e-juice, which depending on how much you vape, could last up to five to seven days and starts at €5.
The vaping movement in Ireland is rapidly gaining momentum. Ronan Condon is one of the organisers of Vapefest, which took place in the Aviva Stadium on November 14 (vapefestireland.com). Between 5,000-6,000 people are expected to attend, with over 70 vendors selling their wares, making it one of the biggest of these events in Europe. “It’s just been crazy. I was in this since the birth of the whole thing, so I’ve seen it evolve and grow. For the first two or three years, it was pretty slow, but since last year, it’s just exploded,” says Condon, a former smoker, now vaper himself. Two pieces of market research from the Irish Cancer Society in the last twelve months back this up. The first study indicated that 134,000 people were using e-cigarettes in Ireland. After the second, conducted in March of this year, the figure had jumped to 210,000.
The first study indicated that 134,000 people were using e-cigarettes in Ireland. After the second, conducted in March of this year, the figure had jumped to 210,000.
Deborah Kelly, a civil servant from Dublin, began vaping two-and-a-half years ago. A weekend smoker, she stopped from the first day she started vaping. “It’s a low-cost, highly- effective way to give up smoking,” she says. “My main problem was not necessarily a nicotine addiction; it was more of a habit. I don’t even think about vaping during the week and suffer no withdrawal Monday to Friday. I was the same when I smoked, but once I get into a pub and put a drink to my mouth, the craving hits. If I don’t drink, I don’t vape.” She spends about €20 per month vaping and has no intentions of giving it up. “You can do it indoors and you don’t feel like [an outcast].” Nor is she overtly concerned with any potential side effects: “The fact of the matter is that the main ingredients of e-cigs are propylene glycol, a well-known ingredient of asthma inhalers and nebulisers, and nicotine. They have far fewer chemicals than cigarettes.”
Although government body Public Health England recently concluded that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, not all public health advocates are so enthusiastic. The Irish Cancer Society’s position is that they cannot recommend e-cigarettes as a way to give up at this moment in time. According to Eoin Bradley, advocacy officer at the ICS, this is because not enough studies have been done on their long-term use: “What we want is for e-cigarettes to be a regulated pharmaceutical, medicinal product. That would, first of all, allow them to be tested to see if there are any long-term effects. We’ve had the scientific stuff come in, in terms of the short-term effects, but if a person is smoking 20 cigarettes for 20 years and swaps to an e-cigarette for 20 years, we still don’t know what the long- term effects will be.” He points to the fact that the vaping industry is unregulated and covered by consumer laws, so buying a vaping device is akin to purchasing a bicycle at this point in time.
Legally, someone who is under 18 can buy e-cigarettes, and it’s banned in hospitals and by companies such as CIE and Dublin Bus, although it’s at an employer’s discretion to allow them or not. However, the Department of Health will be required to bring in some legislation on e-cigarettes by May of next year. Another of the Irish Cancer Society’s reservations about e-cigarettes is in relation to the advice, or lack thereof, people are given. “If you want to use e-cigarettes, have a look at other [methods of quitting] as well, such as counselling, or contact the HSE QUIT team to discuss the best route for you, because in a lot of cases, the advice people are given is as important as the products that might help,” advises Bradley.
My own vaping experience was this: I went to an e-cig shop, I picked up a starter pack in flavours of melon, strawberry and passion fruit, and went home to begin a smoke-free life. The device was a teeny bit lumbersome in comparison to the feel of real cigarette, but the whole experience was absolutely fine. I didn’t feel tetchy, and I liked the flavour. I vaped for the next few days, and then forgot to bring it with me to work, so I bought a pack of cigarettes. The next day, I forgot to recharge it, and by the end of the week, it had been retired to a drawer in the living room. Out of sight, out of mind. While I could buy the equipment, neither will power nor determination is freely available to purchase yet, not even on the internet. But whatever the long-term effects about vaping might prove to be, my feeling is that if in the short-term they get you off tobacco, they might be worth the risk – which is why my e-cig filled with passion fruit juice is currently plugged into my computer and charging up for the first time in months.
If you would like to quit smoking, visit quit.ie for more information and support.
This article was originally published in the November issue of IMAGE Magazine.