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Is vaping less dangerous than smoking, or do the risks lurk in the smoke?

E-cigarettes have grown in popularity as a stop-smoking aid in the UK during the past few years.


During the last ten years, smoking vapes has become a new trend. The global market for vapes has grown 8,000-fold since 2016, there are an increasing number of vape stores on British streets, and vape makers have started to sponsor Formula One and football teams. But it has now begun to cause a massive rift in opinions.


Smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable illness and disease in the UK, despite a dramatic decline in the percentage of smokers over the past few decades. 

On the one side, the tobacco industry says that vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking and aids smokers in quitting, as does Public Health England to some extent. On the other end, public health professionals, including the World Health Organization, draw attention to its potential dangers for children and young people and advocate much greater caution than the liberal stance the UK has chosen.

Contrary to what the tobacco industry asserts, there is mixed evidence regarding whether vaping aids in quitting smoking. "To date, evidence on the use of e-cigarettes as a quitting assistance is inconclusive," the WHO has added in its findings. Therefore, it is concerning to see Public Health England misrepresent the research.

Public health professionals are concerned that vaping promotes long-term "nicotine dependence compared to gums and patches intended to help people quit smoking. There is proof that it can introduce young people who have never smoked to smoking. The WHO concludes that e-cigarettes are unsafe for health and that it is yet too early to know the long-term implications. Many people have different opinions about Public Health England's assertion that vaping is 95% less dangerous than smoking.

Additionally, there is growing evidence that e-cigarettes pose serious health hazards. They do not have the harmful tar of traditional cigarettes, but they do have nicotine, a substance that is highly addictive and has negative health effects. According to some reports, it hurts young people's brain development and neurological and cardiac conditions. E-cigarettes may be linked to acute lung injury; there have been horrifying reports of young individuals who use vape products experiencing a collapsed lung.

The most comprehensive review of the health dangers of vaping to date is the independent report, which the Office commissioned for Health Improvement and Disparities at the Department of Health and Social Care. The researchers consulted about 400 peer-reviewed publications that were widely disseminated, many of which examined the presence of harmful chemicals in the body after smoking and vaping.

Most studies focused on the short- or medium-term effects of smoking or vaping, such as increased nicotine levels and specific cancer-causing compounds. The researchers learned little about the more serious long-term health effects that might develop after prolonged use of the products.

Although the survey indicated that levels of dangerous substances such as nitrosamines, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds were the same or lower in vapers compared to smokers, levels were even lower in persons who did not use any nicotine products at all. Two-thirds of adult smokers in England feel that vaping is just as harmful as smoking. 

Evidence also indicates that vaping liquid may contain many times the quantity of nicotine declared on the box along with other dangerous substances; still, e-cigarettes are very loosely controlled in the UK, unlike some other nations. 

On social media sites like TikTok, advertising is prevalent, with companies finding methods to get around restrictions on direct marketing to children by utilizing vibrant colors and a variety of fun flavors. Even though it is against the law to offer e-cigarettes to people under 18, vaping rates among 11 to 18-year-olds have nearly doubled in the previous three years while smoking rates have remained the same.

Although it is illegal to sell vapes to anyone under 18, secondary schools have seen an increase in students who use them, primarily due to disposable vapes with prices as high as £5 per device and flavors including Strawberry ice, Peach, and Bubble-gum.

In England, smoking has decreased as vaping has surged, but  younger people do not see the same trend. The report states that while vaping increased from 4.8% to 8.6%, smoking among 11 to 18-year-olds remained at 6.3% in 2019 and 6% in 2022. The percentage of 16 to 18-year-olds who vape has doubled in the past year, but the most notable increase has been in the usage of newer, disposable vapes, which are now used by more than half of young vapers, up from 7.8% in the previous year.

Better law enforcement is needed to stop retailers, and other vendors from selling disposable vapes to children, and stricter laws must address the dramatic surge in young people using these devices.


It is unacceptable for the UK to have such a relaxed stance on vaping while the long-term dangers remain unclear. While smoking cessation programs should include vaping, too, sales outside of them need to be strictly regulated, with no advertising, plain packaging, health warnings, and a ban on public areas. Ministers should spend significantly more money on programs that assist individuals in giving up their cigarette addiction, which research has shown to be more successful at helping people quit smoking.





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