To be vape or not to vape? And for what reason? Many turn to e-cigarettes because they’ve heard that it truly is a viable alternative to smoking tobacco-filled conventional cigarettes. Viable in the sense that vaping via e-cigs – containing, as they do, e-juices that turn to vapour (thus ensuring you’re inhaling practicality non-toxic vapour rather than carcinogenic smoke) – won’t harm you anything like as badly as smoking.But is that definitely so? Is there really creditable evidence out there that’ll back up that oft-repeated line or are vapers just kidding themselves? As many other members of the public – non-vapers, as they are – believe they are? In short, vaping versus smoking: is the research different to the public perception?

The research

By and large, the research is generally favourable; that is, most studies undertaken in recent years have come to the conclusion that vaping is less or even far less hazardous to one’s health than ordinary smoking. Indeed, a report compiled in 2015 by the Public Health England body (PHE) found that e-cigs are actually 95 percent less harmful than tobacco-packed cigarettes – which is a pretty strong, ringing endorsement if ever there were one.

Moreover, the UK’s prestigious Royal College of Physicians claimed just one year before that, based on the evidence available, that vaping has the capacity to lead to significant decreases in smoking across the nation, going on to state that “[it could] prevent many deaths and episodes of serious illness, and help to reduce the social inequalities in health that tobacco smoking currently exacerbates”.

Additionally, the results of a systemic review, also dating from 2014, suggest vaping’s less harmful effects on the body can be attributed to the fact that e cig juice lacks tobacco, thus that extremely health-jeopardising concoction containing so many toxic chemicals isn’t combusted and breathed in by e-cig users, unlike by smokers. A note of caution should be struck, though, when it comes to vaping and health; nobody should run away with the idea that it’s 100 percent healthy and won’t negatively affect your body in any way whatsoever. Yet, with so much evidence around, vapers are surely justified in believing that e-cigs aren’t just beneficial in trying to quit smoking, but also far less harmful.

The public perception

There can be no doubt about it – and for better or worse – people’s perceptions of e-cigarettes and what they do are influenced by marketing and advertising; probably much more than by hard data and facts reported by academic studies. This may explain why, to a large extent, there’s a gap between what the research says and what the wider public believes when it comes to vaping versus smoking.

First of all, what do vapers and smokers think? Well, as you’d expect, many users believe e-cigs are healthier than conventional ciggies, both for themselves and for others – usually only a small proportion tend to be concerned about the effects of vaping, when they’re asked. Indeed, a worldwide survey – again, from 2014 – found that 88 percent of users were of the opinion e-cigs were less hazardous than their conventional equivalents, while 11 percent felt they were totally harmless. As for current and former smokers, a 2013 survey discovered 75 percent believed vaping was better for them.

However, a UK-based organisation, Action of Smoking Health (ASH), stated in 2015 that it had found a ‘growing false belief’ that vaping may be as dangerous for one’s health as smoking and it believed this perception among smokers accounted for the fact between 2014 and 2015 why (among those who’d never tried e-cigs), this ‘perception of harm’ had nearly doubled – from 12 percent to 22 percent. Commenting on this revelation, ASH stated: “The growth of this false perception risks discouraging many smokers from using electronic cigarettes to quit and keep them smoking instead which would be bad for their health and the health of those around them”.

In the light of that, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that another PHE report has pointed out that among the wider public (in the US, at least) the number of surveyed respondents believing e-cigs are safer than cigarettes has dropped dramatically – in fact, by more than 30 percent between 2014 and 2015 (82 percent to 51 percent). ‘Misinterpreted research findings’ in negative media coverage is what it blamed for this; giving rising, indeed, to the notion that vaping and smoking are as harmful as one another.

What can we conclude about all this then? Well, for those of us who are unequivocal in our belief that vaping’s safer than smoking and, yes, can help people to quit conventional ciggies (that is, those of us who know this to be true), it’s imperative for us to make sure others and the world at large is aware of what we know, as much as possible and to try and drown out the naysayers. The future of vaping and its role as an anti-smoking tool may depend on it!

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