Are you confused about vaping? Evidence-based answers to 10 frequently asked questions*

Dr Nick Bassal answers your questions

  1. Does vaping help people to quit smoking?

There is growing evidence that vaping (using personal vaporisers or electronic cigarettes) helps some people quit smoking. In the European Union, more than six million smokers reported quitting with the use of vaping and a further 1.5 million have quit using vaping in the UK.

  1. How safe is vaping?

Vaping is not risk-free, but it is far less harmful than smoking. The tar, carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals produced by burning tobacco are largely absent in vaporisers. Electronic cigarettes are not currently regulated in Australia, raising uncertainties about safety, quality and labelling accuracy. Thus,it is recommended that people are encouraged to eventually stop vaping if they can do so without relapsing to smoking.

  1. What are the long-term risks?

As with any new products, there are not enough long-term studies. However, studies of up to three and a half years and 10 years of real-world experience have not detected any serious harm to health. Long-term use is likely to be much less harmful than smoking, which prematurely kills up to two in three long-term users.

  1. Is nicotine dangerous?

Nicotine is the main chemical that smokers are addicted to. It is present in low concentrations in electronic cigarettes. There are a few adverse effects of nicotine including a temporary rise in pulse rate and blood pressure, delayed wound healing and effects on blood sugar metabolism.There is no evidence that nicotine causes cancer or lung disease and it plays a minor role in causing cardiovascular disease. On the other side of the coin, nicotine has some positive effects such as enhancing cognition, concentration and memory and assisting with weight control.It also may benefit some medical conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

  1. Is second-hand vapour harmful?

There is no evidence that exposure to second-hand vapour is harmful to bystanders.Traces of toxic chemicals are present in the exhaled mist, but at such low levels that they are unlikely to be harmful to health. Also, vapour dissipates very quickly, unlike smoke, which persists in the air for long periods. Even so, there are many people who may be sensitive or vulnerable to exposure so no vaping around pregnant women, or children, or in crowds.

  1. Don’t most people who vape also continue smoking?

Most studies have found that people initially try to quit smoking by reducing the number of cigarettes per day, with the goal of quitting cigarettes altogether. Thus, they maintain their nicotine level while lowering their exposure to toxins. The faster they can achieve their goal, obviously the better! Vapers who are ex-smokers can eventually aim to avoid nicotine altogether and just use flavoured e-liquids.

  1. Is vaping a gateway to smoking for young people?

Many young people who experiment with vaping use only fla­v­o­­u­r­e­d­­ e­-­li­q­u­­ids. S­ome will go on to try tobacco cigarettes later in life.However, there is no evidence that vaping causes young people who would not have otherwise smoked to take up smoking. A more likely explanation is ‘common liability’ – that is, that young people who are more attracted to experimentation are predisposed to trying both products. Smoking rates in youth are continuing to fall where vaping is readily available.

  1. Won’t vaping just ‘re-normalise’ smoking’?

There is no evidence that the increased visibility of vaping is causing smoking to become socially acceptable again.

  1. Is vaping legal in Australia?

Nicotine e-liquid can be used legally to quit or reduce smoking if the user has a nicotine prescription from a registered medical practitioner.Otherwise, nicotine for vaping is classified as a schedule 7 dangerous poison in the national Poisons Standard. It is an offence to possess or use it in all states and territories in Australia without an authority. It is, however, legal to possess electronic cigarette devices and to vape with nicotine-free e-liquids, although there are restrictions imposed by some states on where vaping is permitted.

  1. Where can I get more information?

Smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit smoking may benefit from trialling an electronic cigarette as a substitute for smoking or as a quitting aid. Ask your GP who will discuss the pros and cons for you.

* Based on “Vaping. 10 Frequently Asked Questions” by Assoc Professor Colin Mendelsohn and Dr Alex Wodak in Respiratory Medicine Today, June 2018, Vol. 3, No. 1