E-cigs: one of the greatest inventions ever

I smoked for more than 20 years - e-cigarettes helped me stop.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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More than 50,000 lives could be saved in Britain every year if smokers switched to e-cigarettes. That was the conclusion last week of a group of experts writing in the journal Addiction. It was in response to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report which called for the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, to be banned indoors and public places, because they might act as a ‘gateway’ for real cigarettes by ‘normalising’ smoking.

The backlash against those seeking to censure e-cigarettes is timely and welcome. Back in February, the European Union passed legislation regulating the sale of e-cigs and the amount of nicotine in cartridges; legislation to medicalise them was only dropped at the last moment. Last week, the Royal Society for Public Health called for e-cigarettes to be renamed ‘nicotine sticks’, to make them less attractive to young people, and for tougher controls on their promotion and location in shops. A recent report from Columbia University went further, suggesting ‘vaping’ could be a gateway to heroin and other hard drugs.

Professor Ann McNeill of the national addiction centre at King’s College London said she was ‘shocked and surprised by the WHO review’. She is right to be. Estimates of the concentration of toxic chemicals found in e-cigarettes vary from one twentieth to a thousandth of that found in cigarette smoke. Nicotine is as dangerous and addictive as caffeine. E-cigarettes contain no tar and certainly fewer carcinogens. As Rob Lyons and Russell McCarthy have written recently on spiked, they are undoubtedly safer than cigarettes, which are an expensive and suicidal killer.

Professor Robert West, director of tobacco studies at University College London, said people had become ’emotional’ about this issue: ‘There’s a kind of puritanical view that everything related to nicotine is bad and harmful and should be stamped on.’ It’s as if there is resentment from health campaigners that people are enjoying the (ersatz) experience of smoking without it being bad for them.

Yet the ludicrous campaign against e-cigarettes reflects not only our ban-happy culture. It is also a symptom of the prevalence of the precautionary principle in today’s society: everything not proved to be safe is deemed dangerous.

E-cigarettes don’t ‘normalise’ or glamorise smoking in the way cigarette-shaped candy sweets of yore did: they normalise only e-cigarettes themselves. They normalise ‘smoking’ as much as Quorn normalises eating meat for vegetarians (I used Quorn when I went meat-free in 1996 and I’m still a pesceterian-vegetarian). Over two million people in the UK now use electronic cigarettes, a figure that has tripled in two years. This increase would possibly account for the steep increase in calls to the national poison information service (NPIS) about swallowing liquid used in e-cigarettes, from 29 in 2012 to 139 last year. But put this in perspective: every year, more than 16,000 children in England and Wales alone are taken to A&E having been scalded by hot drinks. You are 60 per cent more likely to give up cigarettes by using e-cigarettes than you are by using the next best nicotine substitute or willpower alone. Far from being an ‘entry’ device for tobacco use, there is abundant testimony for them being an ‘exit’ device.

I took up smoking as 17-year-old in 1991, in the way most teenagers do: unthinkingly, seeking to fit in with the cool kids, with that sense of invincibility and lack of foresight you have at that age. Although I sporadically tried to give up in the years that followed, all attempts to quit my 20-a-day habit ended in failure (the only achievement was downgrading from Marlboro Red to Silk Cut Blue).

In 2012, someone I had befriended on social media sent me an electronic cigarette, and on 11 December that year I had my first puff on it. That same day I had my last real cigarette. Ever. These days, I even have nightmares about smoking, from which I awake, as if in a bad film, relieved to find it was just a dream. Furthermore, this year I’ve also managed to give up vaping itself. I am now three months nicotine-free. In my case, e-cigs, a veritable gateway to fresh air, were a victim of their own success.

E-cigs are possibly one of the greatest inventions of all time, in that they are that all-too-rare thing: a real miracle cure, literally an overnight solution. And I’m not alone in thinking this, as replies to a query I put up on Twitter last week will now demonstrate.

@gonloopys: 28year smoking habit. Had 1st ecig jan 2013. I know I will never smoke again.
@Todrick: 1.5 Pack/day smoker for 22 years, stopped overnight with eCigs. been 2.5 years now.
@olddragons: smoked a pack a day for 40 years, never wanted to stop smoking. 3.5 years now without a cigarette
@VapeCrusaderOk: smoked pack a day for 30 years. Got an #ecig and simply forgot about smoking nasty cigarettes. #ecigs are better!
@MandieMW: 30 days ago I got a starter kit and after 20 years I finally gave up smoking.
@Reptile_keeper_: Finally quit 16/12/13 after years of trying and failing with everything pharma had to offer
@DR_Kronenbourg: 30 years smoker – 30 a day, first ecig came through the door 13/02/13, I have been smoke free ever since.
@BradFixeruper74 4 years smokefree thanks to ecigs
@danieljdlhall: 22 yr 2 pack a day.last smoke May 7-same with my gf.. down to 3mg nic and chasing clouds
@Ivisi: I’ve been vaping since April of 2009, and have been smoke-free ever since. 5 years, 4 months, and 6 days.
@Rathmacan: From 125g rolling tobacco to 0g in 1 day, all due to an ecig I just tried to see what they were like.
@mhnspectrum2: 6 months no smoking. Patch failed, nico-inhaler failed, cold turkey almost killed me. Even the smell of analogs makes me ill.
@Karl_Norgaard: went from 2 packs a day to 0 in 5 days. And it was not even a quit attempt, it just ended up that way. It’s now 4½ years ago.
@ErickMStorm: After 36 yrs kicked a 50-60 a day habit the moment I started almost 1 year ago.
@ThaumaturgeRN: Last cigarette 9/27/12 2y11m7d. Started 24mg/ml now 3mg/ml. No cravings ever!
@Johnedwarddiver: 34 years smoking. Strongly opposed to quitting. Quit overnight 18 months ago.
@Rich_Jordine: 14 months smoke free and vaping 6 mg/ml. I was a 1-1/2 pack a day smoker for 30 years. Nothing else worked for very long.
@Entropy72: I went from 30/day to 0 after 26 years smoking, as soon as I opened the starter pack. 16 months cig free now.
@georgedavid678: Smoked for 50 yrs,30+Superkings per day.Stopped immediately with ecigs 18 months ago.Zero since.
@Sweetaerobabesmoked: a PAD for 30 yrs. smoked through chemo 4 BC. Got ecig 3 yrs ago and not a cig since. Have dropped my mg from 18 to 6
@Blueboggirl: Was a heavy smoker, vaping for 3 years now. Have cut ejuice strength in half. Not 1 chest infection since. So glad i did it.
@MogerDavid: Smoked for 38 years 20 a day and had no wish to give up. Found vaping and smoked my last cigarette 18 months ago
@elac19: Hubby and I both quit after over 30 yrs smoking. We quit the cigs immediately and cut out the nico within a year.
@Oddbjorn75: gave up after 25 years, knew same day I started it was going to work, this after failing few times before
@Knightofredemt: Kicked a forty year habit overnight thanks to vaping, two years clean of tobacco.
@CaeruleanSea: I’ve had one puff (two weeks ago) to see what it tasted like after so long. Vile. No desire 2 smoke & only vape sweet flavours
@Todrick: I’m a vaper. I HAVE tried smoking since, to confirm what I had heard. It’s True… they’re NASTY now.
@NealRoff: Funny that, I have gone back to tea. Damn, nic a gateway to tea addiction.

‘I’ve not had a cigarette for six months and before that I smoked 40 a day’, adds India Knight of The Sunday Times, writing how e-cigarettes freed her from a 30-year habit. ‘You would think that WHO had enough real health problems to deal with without needing to protect the world against imaginary dangers that may not even exist’, writes Alexander Chancellor, another vaper convert, in the current Spectator. ‘It makes me so cross that I may very well give up giving up.’

To curtail or ban the use of e-cigarettes would be a cruel madness indeed.

Patrick West is a spiked columnist.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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