The Effect That Vaping Is Having On Smoking Rates In The UK

by Jenn

For a long time, smoking wasn’t considered an unhealthy behaviour. Millions of people did it because it made them feel good, and once they started, they couldn’t stop. It was only after more research was conducted into the habit that we began to realise just how dangerous smoking cigarettes can be. However, that knowledge alone hasn’t made much of a difference.

Today, plenty of people worldwide still enjoy smoking cigarettes every day, sometimes getting through as much as one pack in that time. Despite all the advertising about how harmful it is, including on the products themselves, many smokers have struggled to give the bad habit up. Things are slowly changing, though.

Something that’s seemed to have a significant impact in recent years is vaping. Since it was conceived, it’s grown steadily in popularity, to the point that it’s now viewed as an ideal smoking cessation tool. Just what kind of an impact is it having in the UK, though?

How Smoking Rates Are Changing

Over the last decade, there’s been a growing disinterest in smoking. The rate of change hasn’t always been significant, but more than 5% of the UK’s population has stopped smoking since 2011. That’s quite a notable figure, especially as it comes from before the pandemic. There are now even fewer people indulging in cigarettes after the COVID-19 virus prompted a lot of smokers to worry about their health.

It’s believed that at least a million people quit during the UK’s first lockdown. Although the stress of the pandemic may have prompted some people to take up the habit, that’s still a significant drop. After all, the number of adult smokers in 2019 was around 6.9 million, so that effectively cut the figure down by approximately 15%. How much of a role did vaping play in this, though?

The Popularity Of Smoking Cessation Methods

A look into the popularity of various smoking cessation methods in the UK makes it pretty clear where people are having the most success. According to a report from Public Health England published in early 2021, 27.2% of smokers used vaping to try and quit last year. That’s understandable, given that success rates have previously been recorded as high as 70%+.

Vaping was the most popular cessation method by far, with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) coming in second place with 18.2%. Some years ago, NRT patches and gum would have easily been the options that most people turned to when trying to quit. However, the more gradual transition from cigarette to vape has understandably changed that. Many people evidently find that replacing the substance but maintaining the act of “smoking” is easier for weening off cigarettes.

Below NRT was an even more unpopular choice, the medication varenicline. Only 4.4% tried using this to quit.

Using Vaping In A Trial Setting

Vaping is now considered such a popular option for smoking cessation that hospitals across the country will reportedly be providing them to smokers in a new trial.

Emergency departments in different parts of the UK will be offered a vaping device, along with some e-liquid, in a bid to help them ditch cigarettes. They’ll also be provided medical advice and referral to a local smoking cessation service, so they can receive the support they need to quit smoking.

The trial will apparently begin in the Autumn, although not every smoker participating will receive vaping products. Some will only be given information on smoking cessation services to see how they fare compared to the vaping group. The assumption is that those who receive the vape products will have greater success in the trial, although we’ll have to wait to see if that’s the case.

The Freedom To Explore New Flavours

Although this trial hopes that many smokers will forgo cigarettes in favour of vaping, participants will only receive a week’s worth of e-liquid to help them switch. People who enjoy the experience will be expected to continue funding it themselves by buying their own e-liquid throughout the trial period.

This might seem like a risky move, given that a week might not be deemed long enough for a person to become interested in vaping. However, it has the advantage that people aren’t limited to vaping whatever flavour they’re provided. Instead, they can buy something that’s more to their liking.

One of the biggest advantages of vaping over smoking is that you get so much more of a taste sensation during the experience. If you check out somewhere like The Vape House, you can literally search through hundreds of flavours to find one that suits your palate. Part of the fun of vaping is experimenting with these flavours and seeing which ones enhance your vape. So, the participants in this trial may well benefit from going to this vape shop online and choosing their own e-liquids rather than being given them.

Other Countries Have Different Viewpoints

The UK’s adoption and embrace of vaping is a significantly different approach to how some parts of the world treat this habit. For instance, several states in the US have banned vaping, partly because they believe that it’s a gateway to smoking cigarettes. However, in doing this, they’ve actually increased the number of people taking up smoking.

Massachusetts once used to be notable for its declining rates of cigarette use. However, a few years ago, they placed a statewide ban on flavoured vapes, and since then, other states have been far more successful in reducing smoking rates.

Likewise, San Francisco placed a ban on selling vape products in 2020, a move which was followed by an increase in youth smoking. By forbidding people from using this popular cessation method, all they did was push them towards the habit they’re trying to stop.

It’s Making A Difference

It seems this reluctance to accept vaping is something that’s also present in the World Health Organization. Their views are primarily that vaping is as dangerous an activity as smoking cigarettes, and therefore, they don’t support those who use it as a cessation method.

It’s true that the health effects of vaping aren’t entirely known, and it’s not a risk-free alternative to cigarettes. However, a lot of scientific studies seem to indicate that it’s not as dangerous as smoking, suggesting it could be a necessary means to an end.

According to Professor John Newton of Public Health England, smoking was responsible for around 75,000 deaths in the UK in 2019. When you compare that to the fact that vaping reportedly helps roughly 50,000 smokers quit cigarettes every year, it’s clear that it can do some good. While it might not be the perfect solution – such a thing doesn’t exist – it’s one of the best tactics we have at the moment. Unless conclusive evidence suddenly reveals that it poses a significant health hazard, there’s no need for people to be as reluctant as they are about vaping.

Smoking rates have been in decline for a while now, and with any luck, they’ll continue going in that direction. If that means a greater adoption of vaping across the country, then maybe that’s for the best. The evidence proves that it’s worked well up to this point, and there’s no reason it should change anytime soon. 

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