Vaping linked to mystery lung illness: Should we be worried or is this just more scary headlines?
I was supposed to be writing about something more positive this week, and I wish I was. But events and the headlines across the media in the last couple of weeks has forced me into addressing those stories instead.
Unless you've been living under a rock you've probably seen some of the articles where, apparently, “vaping” has caused lung damage and put some people in hospital and in a coma. There's currently over 3 million people vaping in the UK, many of them, like myself, have been vaping for a good number of years, with only positive effects compared to when we were smokers. So, what's been going on?
In my blog Reading past the e-cigarette scare headlines I covered a lot of the problems in the media, but that was back in March and those issues seem to be getting worse, not better. It's a very confusing situation for people. We have the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Physicians, the NHS and Stop Smoking Services talking very positively about the use of e-cigarettes. Then we have stories reported from the USA giving a very different picture.
What does “vaping” actually mean?
One issue we face right now is that 'vaping' no longer means 'using an e-liquid with nicotine to replace smoking cigarettes.' It has become a word to describe the way someone puts something into their body.
If you have a friend with Diabetes and they need to “inject” themselves with Insulin, that's clearly not the same thing as if they were “injecting” themselves with Heroin. If you read a headline that said 'Injecting caused the death of a young man' it's clearly a meaningless statement. In the same way, saying 'Vaping caused the death of a young man' is also meaningless unless you understand exactly what he was vaping!
Today's vaping technology can be used to vape a lot of things. Many of us hoped that it could be used with other drugs and medicines to help treat people and give them better lives. Sadly, it seems that the technology is now being used to inhale dangerous and often illegal chemicals.
Many ex-smokers don't like the term e-cigarette because it suggests that they are still using a cigarette. It implies that they are still smoking to some people. But it's something that I think I will find myself saying more and more. I think we are heading down a road that will get to a point where saying 'vaping' won't be enough, because it will be followed by the question “What are you vaping?” For those of us that are trying to make e-cigarette use more acceptable and public places more open to the idea of people using e-cigarettes, it's worrying.
I recently spoke to a local music venue/club owner about why they don't allow people to use e-cigarettes inside their venue. I thought it was worth asking as they are routinely pumping litres of fake 'smoke' onto the stage that fills the whole club, a vapour that is largely the same as the tiny amount that comes out of my vaping device. The reply I got was not what I was expecting and not one I could argue against. I was told simply that while they would like to allow e-cigarette use inside the venue, they have a zero-tolerance policy against illegal drug use and it's just impossible to check and police what people are vaping. He said, “You could have anything in that liquid, how would I know?” At the time I thought he was being a bit dramatic, after all I'm just vaping. Now after these stories over the last few weeks I'm starting to understand his point.
I don't really want to speculate what was in the liquids that generated these headlines, because I just don't know. But it seems pretty clear that it wasn't nicotine or any of the other ingredients that we find in a 'normal' bottle of e-liquid that's been tested and sold here in the UK. The problem isn't vaping itself; the problem is what they were vaping.
Is vaping safe?
Vaping, or should I say, 'e-cigarette use', saves lives. That's the conclusion of the NHS, the UK Government, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Midwives, Cancer Research and Stop Smoking Services. Not to mention the anecdotal evidence from millions of vapers. Good information is there and widely available online, but it just doesn't have the click bait appeal of the shocking headlines.
The main thrust of most of these recent stories is that we don't know if vaping is safe, so it should be avoided. I would go further and state that's it's a fact we know that it isn't 'safe'. As My Vape Box said almost a year ago in the blog Will vaping harm you? “As vapers we should be under no illusion that vaping is a 'safe' or 'harmless' activity and it should always be seen as harm reduction. This is why we never encourage non-smokers to take up vaping. Vaping is not a cure for cancer or a magic wand but it's undeniable, with the research and scientific information we have now, that if you switch to vaping you will be doing much less damage to your body than you were as a smoker.”
That statement is still true, vaping will always come with risks, however small that might be. Consuming anything comes with risks, you only have to look at the information on the packet any over the counter painkillers to see the list of possible very serious side effects. That shouldn't however be used to scare people into not using something that could be a huge benefit to them.
It should go without saying that you should never be tempted to buy e-liquids or a pre-filled pod/cartridge off the streets or black markets. I'm not going to start preaching about what drugs you choose to use, that's not my business, but it is incredibly risky. My Vape Box have a blog called What’s in e-cigarette e-liquid? As ex-smokers we are trying to minimise the damage we're doing to our bodies by consuming the nicotine in a much less damaging way, adding anything else to an e-liquid is an unknown and something I would avoid personally. When I first started vaping there was a couple of manufacturers selling ranges of caffeine e-liquids, I never understood it then and I don't understand it now.
The e-liquid industry will face even tighter regulations in the future I expect. But you can bet that if it's possible to vape something it will be tried soon enough. I would be happy to see more uses for vaping technology; I just hope that they are positive uses and can be used in a way that will benefit people. Seeing young people hospitalised using the same technology that I know can improve people lives in so many ways, is overwhelmingly sad and disheartening.
Simon - My Vape Box