Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are a ‘clean’ way for people to consume nicotine, the stimulant that provides a brief, temporary high. Unless you’re up close to one it’s hard to tell an e-cigarette apart from a tobacco one – manufacturers deliberately design e-cigarettes to closely resemble traditional cigarettes to appeal to smokers.
The major, obvious difference is the electronic device burns nothing and therefore produces no harmful and antisocial smoke. Instead, a vapour cloud consisting mostly of water is generated. There’s no clinging cigarette smell, no ash and far fewer harmful chemicals than the 4,000 found in tobacco smoke.
With an increasing number of smokers converting to vaping – as e-cigarette use is known as – e-cigarettes are becoming more and more popular as a stop-smoking aid. And the question that is most commonly asked is this: are electronic cigarettes safe? Research is ongoing, but some definitive answers have been found.
A Public Health England report published in August 2015 found that e-cigarettes were around 95 per cent less detrimental to a user’s health than cigarettes and that, when used as advised by manufacturers, there is no risk of nicotine poisoning.
Furthermore, the study found that e-cigarettes are now the most popular aid to help smokers quit cigarettes in England.
Why the surge in popularity?
It comes down to the basic point of an e-cigarette: to replicate the sensation of tobacco smoking via a device that produces far fewer harmful side effects.
When you light a cigarette, you burn the tobacco it contains to create a smoke cloud to be inhaled. With an e-cigarette, there is no burning. E-liquid, the substance that contains the nicotine, flavourant and water, is rapidly heated up as soon as a user begins to draw from the mouthpiece. This causes a small vapour cloud to form, which is drawn into the lungs just as tobacco smoke would be.
A lithium battery provides the power to the vaporiser housed within the e-cigarette. Attached to this battery component is the cartridge containing the e-liquid; the tip of this cartridge forms the mouthpiece.
E-cigarettes work because they are used in exactly the same way as tobacco cigarettes. They are held the same way, the vapour cloud inhaled and exhaled the same way, they even last about as long as a packet of 20 cigarettes. Some e-cigarettes also have a coloured LED at the tip that glows as a user inhales, just as the lit end of a cigarette would.
The contents of the cartridge are the reason so many former smokers now vape. The nicotine level and flavour can be minutely adjusted to suit the user’s taste. A high dose of nicotine might be used at first, and then wound down gradually until, eventually, none is used at all, making for a stimulant-free vaping experience. And yet it still satisfies because of the feeling of inhaling and exhaling. According to OxfordJournals.org, vapers considered themselves less dependent on e-cigarettes than tobacco cigarettes – indicating that vaping is seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.