To vape, or not to vape...
- Credit: PA
Opinion: The world's health bodies needs to decide a consistent approach on e-cigarettes, says Aidan Semmens
How times change. My daughter, who'll be off to university this year, has never known a world without the internet. She can barely remember life without smartphones and social media. She'd struggle to see, breathe – or believe – in the kind of atmosphere that was normal in every pub not so very long ago.
And not only in pubs either. It was 30 years ago this week that I gave up smoking at work. My colleagues in a new job made it clear they'd prefer me not to bring the pipe with which I'd polluted my previous department.
Not long afterwards I abandoned the habit entirely. I discovered that waking up every morning with sinusitis and a throat tasting of ashes was not a natural or necessary aspect of life.
Half my life ago. Yet a whiff of pipe smoke in the street can still bring a brief pang of nostalgia.
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Not, I think, that I was ever addicted. But I liked the fiddle and paraphernalia of pipesmoking. I liked the pipe as an object. And yes, I liked the smell and taste of some tobaccos.
Which is why I think if e-cigarettes had been around then, I might have switched from smoking to vaping.
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And where would I be now if it had been available and I had? Who knows?
At this point I should admit a special interest. Among my other jobs I work on a website dedicated to e-cigarettes – every aspect, from marketing to science and health, and the different regulations that apply around the world.
In a sense, then, I am in the pay of the vaping industry. But I and the company are strictly independent and impartial. The information we impart to companies, researchers and legislators wouldn't be much use if we weren't.
I've never tried vaping. Frankly, I'd rather go back to the old pipe. But I do know something about the subject.
I know, for example, that Britain – especially England – is probably the most e-cig-friendly country in the world.
A country which advises: 'An expert review of the latest evidence concludes that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent safer than smoked tobacco and they can help smokers to quit.'
That's from Public Health England. This is from the Royal College of Physicians: 'E-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to UK public health.'
And this is the British Lung Foundation: 'Given half of long-term smokers die as a result of their habit, using vaping to help someone quit smoking could literally save their life.'
Other supporters of e-cigs include Cancer Research and the British Heart Foundation.
Contrast this with countries like Australia, where e-liquids containing nicotine are illegal; India, where four states have banned vaping; or Indonesia, which seems to be heading towards an outright ban.
A cynic might link some countries' tight regulation to the importance of their tobacco industries, and the tax revenues they get from smokers.
But it also fits with the advice of the World Health Organization, which recommends tight restrictions on sale and promotion of e-cigs, maybe prohibition. The WHO even calls the things ENDS, which stands for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, but also seems symbolic.
The UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies doesn't think much of Dr WHO's advice. In a long list of charges, it concludes: 'The WHO report does not acknowledge that significant restrictions on e-cigarettes could lead to unintended consequences, including increases in smoking.'
Vaping, of course, can be a trendy lifestyle choice as well as a way to quit fags. No one, as far as I know, ever chased the dragon with Embassy Regal.
And support for e-cigs should come with this reservation.
They may not bring the same dangers as smoking – in fact, they clearly don't – but of the long-term effects, there is only one thing we can say with confidence. It's too early to tell.