The panic over vaping is pure hysteria

We should be celebrating e-cigarettes, not cracking down on them.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics Science & Tech UK

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 60 years, you’ll know that smoking tobacco can be bad for your health. What’s more, quitting is easier said than done. Thankfully, in the past decade or so, a safer alternative to smoking has emerged in the form of vaping. And yet some campaigners and health authorities still seem determined to scare us off it.

The big problem with smoking is the burning. Or rather, the incomplete burning. At the kind of temperatures a cigarette burns, the resultant smoke is full of half-combusted chemicals (like carbon monoxide and microscopic particles of ash) with a variety of nasty properties.

There has long been a search for a satisfying way of delivering nicotine without the combustion. Nicotine-replacement therapies (like gum or patches) work just fine, but lack the ritual or pleasure that accompanies smoking. That’s where e-cigarettes come in. They provide a satisfying amount of nicotine and something to puff on without any of the dangerous byproducts from burning.

Many people still prefer the ‘real thing’ for a variety of reasons. But vaping has an overwhelming amount of undeniable advantages. These even go beyond health, such as that they don’t leave a lingering, unpleasant smell or the detritus of cigarette butts and ash. And if you really want to be an anorak about it, you can experiment with a variety of different devices and liquids.

Unsurprisingly, this all makes vaping incredibly popular. According to the latest figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2022 about 5.2 per cent of Brits said they were daily vapers. A further 3.5 per cent said they vaped occasionally. That amounts to around 4.5million people. Most vapers are current (27.1 per cent) or former smokers (16.5 per cent). Only 2.4 per cent of people who vape daily or occasionally have never smoked.

In other words, an awful lot of people are either not smoking tobacco cigarettes at all thanks to vaping or have replaced some cigarettes with a vape. Surely, that will prove to be an enormous health benefit in the long-run?

The UK has been among the most liberal countries in the world when it comes to vaping, even allowing for Rishi Sunak’s ludicrous plans to ban disposable vapes and slap a tax on vape juice. By contrast, other countries and jurisdictions – and most importantly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) – have gone completely bonkers on vaping. It seems the monomaniacs who have long detested smoking are keen to go after vaping too, simply because they both contain nicotine. So effective are these efforts that most people seem to think that vaping is as dangerous or even more dangerous than smoking tobacco. The evidence suggests this simply isn’t true.

One widely reported study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session earlier this month claims that people who use e-cigarettes are significantly more likely to develop heart failure compared with those who have never used them. The study found that ‘people who used e-cigarettes at any point were 19 per cent more likely to develop heart failure compared with people who had never used e-cigarettes’. The study also accounted for ‘a variety of demographic and socioeconomic factors, other heart-disease risk factors and participants’ past and current use of other substances, including alcohol and tobacco products’.

Nobody claims that vaping is 100 per cent safe. However, the UK government’s most recent review of the evidence states that ‘in the short and medium term, vaping poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking’. So, giving much attention to this new study is premature, to say the least.

Firstly, it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. That means it has not yet been properly scrutinised. Secondly, this is just an observational study, which means it is potentially subject to bias, and can fail to account for other important variables. This all means that an increased risk of 19 per cent could well be completely meaningless. With so many potential confounding factors, these studies need to be treated with a massive pinch of salt.

More bizarre is a recent post on X by the WHO that claims: ‘Vaping increases your risk of seizures, typically within 24 hours of doing it.’ There doesn’t appear to be any strong proof for this. Much of the evidence to date is based on self-reporting, which is rarely a good guide. Correlation – ‘I vaped and then I had a seizure’ – is not the same as causation. That’s why we do controlled studies to try to find out if there is a real link or not. Another paper, reviewing the evidence on vaping and seizures, is sceptical. It even notes that nicotine may have an anticonvulsant effect.

The vaping panic is confirmation that ‘public health’ often doesn’t have much to do with health at all. A proper assessment of the evidence would conclude that vaping has been a massive success story, providing a safer alternative to cigarettes. But the anti-nicotine fussbudgets would rather we treat e-cigs – products that have been designed and regulated to be much safer than smoking tobacco – as if they were poison. This is madness. The public-health lobby is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Rob Lyons is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics Science & Tech UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today