Canadian students seeking refuge from tobacco products should be looking to a new cloud of smoke — or rather vapour. The use of e-cigarettes, also known as vapour cigarettes or vapes, have been steadily on the rise in Canada and the evidence proves there is good reason.
The University of Victoria has released a comprehensive report that reinforces the notion of e-cigarettes as a successful form of harm reduction. “The idea that you could have a low-risk cigarette has been anathema to public health for years,” said principal investigator Tim Stockwell from the University of Victoria. “Tobacco has been notorious for having killed more people on the planet than almost any other substance that we’ve created — and for recreational use.” The study, carried out by Victoria student Renee O’Leary, investigated a number of hotly debated aspects of the e-cigarette and its function in helping smokers quit tobacco.
The study revealed that e-cigarettes contain only 18 of the 79 common tobacco cigarette toxins. In addition, the exposure to vape “smoke” — which isn’t smoke at all due to the lack of combustion —lacked any significant carcinogenic relation.
The study found no proof that using e-cigarettes would act as a precursor to trying actual cigarettes, or other harmful substances — especially for kids.
That’s been one of the main concerns of e-cigarette opponents. An analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, Rob Cunningham, said a primary worry with vapour products is not just smokers using them, but their influence on youth culture. “We’re not calling for a ban on e-cigarettes, but we don’t want kids using them,” he said.
But in the UVic study, called Clearing the Air, Stockwell found that there were almost no instances of users transitioning from vapour products to tobacco.
“That’s the kind of thing you would expect to happen, but it’s nearly always the other way around,” said Stockwell.
In Clearing the Air, the evidence confirms that vapour products should serve to ease those concerns. “The available evidence is that tobacco use by youth has been declining while use of vapour devices has been increasing,” the study reported. Statistics show that Canadian youth smoking has dropped almost two per cent since 2013; in that period vapour use has become increasingly prevalent.
Matthew Liegghio, a fourth-year real-estate management student at Ryerson, tried vaping to positive effect. “ I definitely felt much healthier as I wasn’t smoking cigarettes throughout the day,” he said. After months without tobacco, it wasn’t only his lungs that noticed the decreased strain. “My appetite wasn’t suppressed after having a cigarette as it usually was,” said Liegghio.
Ultimately, vaping didn’t lead him to quit tobacco. But he said it was his approach, not the e-cigarettes, that failed him. “I continued to vape at high nicotine concentrate, which caused my body to crave more and more,” he said. “If you plan on quitting, you are supposed to lower the nicotine content gradually, which will eventually suppress your body’s craving for nicotine.”
An industry spokesman said there is proof that, if used properly, the e-cigarettes do work to help people quit tobacco.
“There is a strong body of evidence that suggests 12 million people worldwide have used these products to quit smoking,” said Daniel Walsh, founder of Purebacco vapour products. “Peer support is very powerful in the smoking cessation process,” he said. As a former smoker, Walsh said the communal aspect of vapour culture is working in positive tandem with harm reduction to instil positive lifestyle habits.
The rules governing vaping are vague. Currently, there are no federal regulations at all on the sale and production of electronic cigarettes. Each province, however, has its own rules; Ontario has limited the sale of electronic cigarettes to citizens over 19.
One U.S. advocate said one of the reasons legislators oppose e-cigarettes is because they lump them in with tobacco.
“There are many people that think that because they are opponents of cigarettes and smoking that they should also oppose vapour products,” said the president of the American Vaping Association, Gregory Conley.
Conley has been dealing with American state legislatures for years, educating the nation on the potential health impacts of removing tobacco carcinogens and using vapour products. “If there are any concerns it’s that there’s more science to be done,” said Conley.
Stockwell argues for another kind of change in thinking. “I would advocate not only loosening restrictions on it, but making it possible for doctors to prescribe it,” said Stockwell. “People with low incomes and other health issues are using so much of their funds on cigarettes, and they can’t afford to get started on these products,” he said.
For those who can afford to invest, the change pays off. Another Ryerson business-management student, Daniel Rea, quit smoking three weeks ago. “Right now I’m saving about $200 a month by vaping and not smoking,” he said. After smoking one pack a day for six years, he’s decided to choose a healthier lifestyle he said, even if the changes aren’t immediately apparent. “So far I don’t really notice any health benefits but most of the benefits I’ve felt are not smelling like a piece of garbage and having better breath.”
Currently, the American government considers electronic cigarettes to be tobacco products. That is set to change next year, when the FDA will become the enforcing body behind production and sale applications.
“Over 99 per cent of vapour products available today in the U.S. will be banned under the FDA’s regulations, on Aug. 8, 2018,” said Conley.
That runs the risk of driving the vapour market underground, something Stockwell has seen in Canada and hopes to avoid. “It would be great if there were regulations so that the products available were the safest ones, because it’s not well regulated,” said Stockwell. “They’re not all as safe as each other.”
There are a number of chemicals present in e-cigarettes that have not been tested over an extended period of time. Included in that concern is the efficiency of vapes in delivering nicotine, with a speed far greater than cigarettes. However, medical effects of nicotine addiction remain far less substantial than those of cigarette carcinogens.
“I’ve got chain-smoking relatives in England. Next time I go there I’m going to bring them free (vapour) kits,” said Stockwell. “I’ll give them to them as presents. Stop smoking, it’s bad for you.”