Photo: William Warby: /CC

Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

Birth of E-Cigarettes


Since the 60’s, when evidence began to appear that smoking was harmful to your health, marketers and some consumers have sought a healthier alternative to cigarettes. It took decades for a potential answer to appear, but then in the early noughties someone discovered something that has significantly changed our environment since.


The modern E-Cig was invented by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2003, after he give up a heavy cigarette smoking habit and began looking for an alternative


These new alternatives, called e-cigarettes, were used by breathing in nicotine vapour rather than tobacco smoke. Since many of the harmful chemicals in a cigarette are in the tobacco, rather than the nicotine, e-cigs were seen by many as a healthier alternative to cigarette smoking.


One of the early companies marketing E-Cigs described using the devices as "It's safe smoking -- like smoking with a condom on,". This was William Taskas, a Canadian distributor who was a marketer of E-cig products in the 2000’s.


Should Vaping be available on the NHS?


This description of this 21st Century approach to smoking as healthy has been borne out by certain government announcements, such as the announcement last summer by Public Health England, who released a report saying that E-cigs (vaping) is safer than regular cigarettes.


PHE stated that they thought the evidence showed that electronic devices are 20 times less harmful than traditional cigarettes, and that if every smoker in Britain switched to vaping, around 75,000 lives a year could be saved.


The report, despite PHE insisting that it was an “Expert Independent Review”, has been since questioned by some who say that the evidence is less clear cut than the government is making it.


Can we trust the Government with our health?


The reception to the report was certainly mixed, with bodies such as the European Commission and World Health Organisation expressing caution.


The Telegraph reported a few weeks after the report’s release that health experts have warned that the report was flawed, not based on reliable evidence and does not prove what it claims.


“The debate is far from over and questions remain about their benefits and harms,” said Professor Martin McKee and Professor Simon Capewell.


“A fundamental principle of public health is that policies should be based on evidence of effectiveness. So does the available evidence show clearly that e-cigarettes are as effective as established quitting aids? Unfortunately not.”


The Lancet Medical Journal revealed that three of the 11 authors of the original study were paid advisors for the e-cigarette industry. The editors of the journal European Addiction Research even issued a warning alongside the article saying there was a ‘potential conflict of interest.’


The World Health Organisation


To add to the confusion, the WHO is resolutely against E-Cigs as an alternative to smoking tobacco. They say that the devices should be banned indoors, due to the second-hand vapour inhalation that occurs, which they say is harmful to the public.


When two Organisations such as Public Health England and the WHO differ so strongly, it becomes an odd situation, an unusual disagreement.




So – what’s the truth? Is vaping a healthier alternative to smoking, or just as bad for you (or worse)?


Well – as you can tell, the jury seems to be out.


One of the latest up-to-date articles on the subject, in The Independent (written by an expert) in March this year, said as much. Heide Weishaar, of the University of Glasgow, wrote that when it comes to the long term effects of vaping, its largely unknown territory. This is due to the fact that vaping has only been around for a few years, and long term studies of these things take decades.


So – proceed with caution. One thing to remember is that until those long-term studies yield results, you are effectively making yourself a Guinea Pig.


Perhaps the safest thing is to avoid vaping AND smoking….?