The vaporizer has, in a sense, done what it set out to do all along. It has done what many thought largely improbable. It has offered the world an attractive and viable alternative to smoking cigarettes. However, whilst the vape is taking the world by storm, it may be doing so at such a rate that the situation may be becoming slightly dicey.
In the UK, for instance, government ministers and health professionals are working hard to end the child vaping epidemic. Young people, those who were not even smoking before, are taking up the vape habit at an unusually early stage in their lives. Vaping may be healthier than smoking, but is it better than nothing at all?
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An e-cigarette or vaporizer comes in many shapes, colors and sizes but – in essence – they all work much the same. The vaporizer is an electronic device that allows users to vaporize, instead of smoke, tobacco. The vape battery attaches itself to a vape cartridge – a condensed tobacco liquid – and then heats up in order to turn this liquid into vapor. The vapor is then inhaled through the mouthpiece.
The temperature at which vapes heat tobacco liquid is one of the main reasons why they are much safer than smoking and, as a result, becoming increasingly popular as an alternative. The end of a lit cigarette burns at around 900 degrees Celsius, which means the tobacco is combusting. This causes the release of dangerous toxins and cancerous carcinogens for those inhaling it, and for those in the near vicinity (second hand smoke). It is believed that 8 million people a year die from smoking-related illnesses, with 1.2 million of these being from secondhand smoking. PMI writes:
“A smoker lights a cigarette, starting a high-temperature reaction known as burning, or combustion… The very same burning process that releases the tobacco flavors and nicotine also produces over 6,000 chemicals, of which about 100 have been identified as causes or potential causes of smoking-related diseases, such as lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and emphysema.”
With the dangers of smoking being so widely understood and constantly proven, it is no surprise that there was a gap for a healthier alternative in the market. In came the e-cigarette.
A Brief History
The history of the vaporizer is long but interesting, and many people give credit to different individuals for the part they played in its eventual creation. In fact, the first signs of the vaporizer may have come as far back as 5BC. During the times of the Ancient Egyptians, they were known to heat hemp seeds on hot rocks and inhale the steam. This was perhaps the first example of the vaping technique. In earlier history, in 1927, Joseph Robinson – an American inventor – patented the mechanical butane ignition vaporizer. This was far from the design of a modern vape, but it was the beginning of a culture of thinking differently.
Later on, in the 1960s, Herbert Gilbert then built a first example of what the future of vapes may look like. In 1993, Eagle Bill created the shake n vape. This device was a glass pipe that would be heated through the glass – rather than smoked – thus popularizing the idea of vaping. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 2003 that e-cigs became what we know it as today. Hon Lik – a Chinese pharmacist – decided to create a device that would help people quit smoking; a habit that had killed his father. The Guardian writes:
“The breakthrough came in 2003, when he hit on the idea of using a piezoelectric ultrasound element to vaporize a nicotine solution in a device resembling a cigarette. These days battery-powered heating elements do the job, but the concept was born.”
The question still remains, and is now being debated more than ever, did Hon Lik do what he set out to do? He created the gadget to help users stop their smoking habits and offer them a healthier alternative. We know that vaping is, on the whole, a much better way to inhale nicotine than smoking. According to the National Health Service of England, vaping is only a fraction as harmful as smoking. Plus, they quote a 2019 clinical trial that proved that, when combined with face-to-face therapy, users were twice more likely to quit smoking using vaporizers than any other alternative option.
Is there a Problem?
However, there may be a problem that has arisen and to ignore this would be to blind the eyes. The real debate is whether this problem is worse than the alternative – a world where smoking is the main monopoly and is unchallenged. All in all, that would of course be worse, but it does not mean we should ignore the issues surrounding vaping. Hon Lik himself has admitted that he still smokes as well as vapes, using them in tandem.
This, evidently, was not the original purpose of the vape. In addition, he sold the rights for his device to a large tobacco company. The issue here is that vaping has become – as cigarettes were in the 60s – a fashionable thing. It is now cool to own a variety of different flavors and colors, with the disposable vapes being the most popular (especially in the UK and Europe). This is because vape companies are more led by the money they make, rather than the help they are giving. This isn’t abnormal, this is simply a symptom of capitalism.
Plus, the more popular vapes become, the more they can help people quit smoking – this is completely true. In 2021, the global vaping market was worth around 17.5 million dollars. This number is forecasted to increase to a whopping 43 million by 2028. In essence, e-cigarettes are becoming incredibly popular and there aren’t any signs to suggest this may stop any time soon. To put this in perspective, in 2021 the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction published a worldwide estimate that there were around 82 million vape users, which was a 17% increase from 2020.
As I’ve said, the popularity of the vaporizer is ultimately a big improvement on the world that existed before the vape did. It is wonderful that there is now a highly appealing alternative, an alternative that is far healthier too. However, the potential problem that has arisen is that it isn’t just people who smoke or once smoked who have started vaping. The issue is that vaping is becoming increasingly appealing to very young people who never had any smoking habits to begin with. Single Care writes:
“20% of people aged 18 to 29 vape, compared to 9% of people aged 30 to 49, 7% of people aged 50 to 64, and less than 0.5% of people older than 65. And, according to the Truth Initiative, 15- to 17-year-olds are 16 times more likely to vape than 25- to 34-year-olds.”
The Issue in the UK
In England specifically, there is believed to be around 6 million smokers, and 4 million vapers. Disposable e-cigs – elf bars and geek bars – are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. The varying flavors, colors, cheap price and ease of access mean that they are becoming even more appealing to the younger age groups. BBC News has quoted a survey by Action on Smoking and Health, which found that:
“Vaping in people aged 11-18 had doubled from 4% in 2020 to 8.6% in 2022. However, smoking figures for the same age-group had gone down slightly from 6.7% in 2020 to 6.0% in 2022… Lead author of the study, Prof Ann McNeill, who specialises in tobacco addiction, said vaping is “very unlikely to be risk-free…We strongly discourage anyone who has never smoked from taking up vaping or smoking,”
The issue with these disposable vapes is the way that they are marketed and designed. Do they need to be flavored? If people wanted to taste something good then they wouldn’t smoke. The nicotine addiction is the appealing part of a cigarette, not the flavoring. But by creating an e-cigarette that tastes essentially like sweets, the designers are allowing themselves to appeal to those who would usually avoid smoking due to this horrible flavor.
It is a flawed set up, which must be noticed. There are now many young people who are being tempted into vaping, simply because it quells their sweet tooth. Eventually this may then act as a gateway to real smoking, a gateway that may never have happened without this specific product. Another issue is that these disposable vapes are so smooth and easy to inhale, that it is very easy to go through an entire bar in a day.
Whereas smoking can become harsh on the throat and eventually deter someone from having another. Again, the problem here is with young people who weren’t smoking much before, not with addicted smokers. These young people are being given an easy route to nicotine. Whilst it is illegal to purchase a nicotine product under the age of 18, the likes of TikTok and other social media platforms constantly show young people using these disposable vapes. It isn’t hard to slip under the cracks.
On the whole, vaping has done wonders for helping smokers quit their dangerous habits. There is very little doubt in that fact. If the choice was simply between vapes existing or not existing then, of course, the former would be an easy decision. However, there is nuance in this world, it isn’t all black and white – and we must aim to improve everything we can. The truth is that disposable flavored vapes – especially in the UK – are becoming a problem for young non-smokers.
I have seen it with my own eyes. My friend’s younger siblings who have never touched a cigarette in their lives, who hate the taste, have suddenly started enjoying a ‘blueberry elfbar’. I myself have even been tempted by the undeniably tasty flavor, smooth inhale and cheap price. The question is: what is the answer? In my opinion, we must continue to focus on why vapes were made in the first place: to offer an alternative to smoking. This means avoiding vape designs that cater themselves to young people who most likely wouldn’t have smoked in the first place.
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