The recently passed festive season is a time of celebration and is quickly followed by the well-intentioned making of New Year resolutions. As usual, many South Africans will be vowing to quit smoking; it is then that the debate about whether to move from tobacco products to vaping will inevitably be reignited.
Whether many smokers make the break from tobacco and move to e-cigarettes and vaping, will depend on the information they receive. They will then have to separate the often ‘emotion-laden’ argument from facts, says Kabir Kaleechurn, Director of the Vapour Products Association of South Africa, which represents the manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the rapidly expanding vaping sector.
“Critics of the tobacco industry are quick to condemn any type of smoking. They rely on evidence that has been accumulated over several decades which is irrefutable. Critics tend to categorise vaping with tobacco smoking. Most often, because vaping is relatively new, they will point out that there is insufficient empirical research available to pronounce that vaping is a safer alternative.”
However, says Kaleechurn, many within the anti-smoking lobby are ignoring the growing acceptance that vaping is playing an important role in helping people break the tobacco habit. In addition, the increasingly medically accepted international view that “harm reduction” is better than accepting the status quo regarding smoking, is also being disregarded in debates.
“Authorities agree that nicotine is the least harmful substance in tobacco cigarettes. The health danger lies in burning the tobacco. This releases harmful smoke and carcinogens that are inhaled by the smoker. Unfortunately, those nearby who inhale the smoke are also placed at risk. Vaping and e-cigarettes contain nicotine only and the vaping process involves heating the vapour, rather than a burning process. Vapers are also able to choose nicotine levels in their vapour of choice, or none at all.”
“Confusion is again caused when people believe that if they are opposed to tobacco products, they cannot support vaping and e-cigarettes. The contradiction is that by not taking the practical ‘harm reduction approach’, they could be impacting on the quality of life of smokers who are seeking an alternative to tobacco. Harm reduction does not mean harm prevention,” says Kaleechurn.
Turning to the value of vaping as a means to cut back or quit smoking and the health issues involved, Kaleechurn points to several views published by authoritative bodies.
- The World Health Organisation’s ‘Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, whose standards are followed in about 180 countries, which stated at a meeting in Delhi, India in November 2016: ‘If the great majority of tobacco smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit would switch without delay to using an alternative source of nicotine with lower health risks, and eventually stop using it, this would represent a significant contemporary public health achievement.’
- Public Health England, which pronounced e-cigarettes and vaping as 95% safer than smoking tobacco.
- Action on Smoking and Health, which found that ‘regular use of the (vaping) devices is confined to current and ex-smokers and use amongst ‘never smokers’ remains negligible.
- The comment by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, the UK in 2009, that ‘there is a large body of evidence that medicinal nicotine (in currently licensed forms) is not a significant factor for cardiovascular events, and does not cause cancer or respiratory disease.’
- A report by the Royal College of Physicians in 2016, which said: ‘Large-scale substitution of e-cigarettes, or other non-tobacco nicotine products, for tobacco smoking has the potential to prevent almost all the harm from smoking in society. Promoting e-cigarettes and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible, as a substitute for smoking, is therefore likely to generate significant health gains in the UK.
“The jury is out and has delivered its verdict on tobacco smoking. Vaping, although a relatively new phenomenon, is receiving a vote of confidence from new vapers and health authorities that are in tune with new trends and are focused on reducing harm.
“The smoking versus vaping debate will continue in 2018, but as the evidence for vaping mounts, so will more tobacco smokers make the life-changing switch,” says Kaleechurn.