An estimated one million people across the UK have swapped smoking for ‘vaping’. To mark national No Smoking Day, reporter Alexa Copeland swapped her pack of menthols for an e-cigarette to find out how they are helping so many people kick the habit.
I have never wanted to give up smoking to be perfectly honest. Life can be miserable enough without depriving oneself of its simple pleasures and for me, pleasurable moments invariably involve cigarettes. Especially the one that gets you started in the morning. And the one with a relaxing cup of tea or a glass of wine at the end of the day, and the one that stops you cracking when you’re nearing your stress limit. And, well, you get my point.
I know it’s not big, and it’s certainly not clever, but I’ve always enjoyed my cigarettes. And in a perverse way, the more we smokers are made to feel like social lepers through bans and regulation, the more my resolve strengthened to continue the habit. Smoking isn’t illegal, it contributes billions to the treasury and the constant hounding of the sociable souls who indulge feels a bit too much like a Nanny State-sponsored witch-hunt for my liking. And that is something I like to rail against most passionately.
Alas, I was forced to re-evaluate my attitude a couple of weeks ago when I was plagued with a chest infection almost matched in severity by my doctor’s words. She did not explicitly link the infection with smoking, but her stern insinuation that I was setting myself up for a grim future of pain and breathlessness from ineffectual lungs was enough to make me seriously think about what I was doing to myself.
Being a somewhat reluctant quitter, I didn’t much fancy my chances of giving up easily. Although I don’t smoke heavily – around seven per day unless alcohol is involved – my habit stretches back over a decade and is truly ingrained in my daily routine. Nicotine patches and gum may work for some, but I knew I’d miss the physical ritual of smoking, so I joined the tens of thousands of people around the country who are replacing their smoking with ‘vaping’.
Vaping is the term given to the use of electronic cigarettes; also known as vapourisers or e-cigs. These devices come in a range of styles offering different flavours and nicotine doses. E-cigs work by vapourising a liquid solution which contains nicotine, thus allowing users to effectively mimic taking a drag on a cigarette to get their nicotine hit. The ‘smoke’ exhaled is largely water vapour and e-cigs are marketed as a much safer alternative to conventional cigarettes as they do not contain tar or carcinogens.
One man keen to extol their virtues is businessman Alan O’Neill who was quick to capitalise on the early popularity of the product. Mr O’Neill bought his own vapouriser online about 18-months-ago and within 30 days his 30-a-day habit was history. He then set about bringing e-cigs to the North-East and now owns E-ciggy shops in Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Washington. He says business is growing from strength to strength as more and more smokers turn to vaping.
He said: “You get customers coming back to tell you how long they’ve gone without a cigarette, while some come back to say thank you for helping them quit and it feels fantastic to get feedback like that. I’ve found that a proportion of users want to quit completely, but a proportion are quite happy to just carry on using the e-cigs as an alternative to smoking. I switched because I wanted to stop the negative health and financial effects of smoking but I still wanted the pleasure of smoking. In that way it was a fantastic solution and I just thought this incredible product should be more widely available.”
Unfortunately for Mr O’Neill and the estimated one million ‘vapers’ in Britain, uncertainty surrounds the product’s future, with bodies such as the British Medical Association and World Health Organisation expressing safety concerns. The main issue is that unlike nicotine patches and gum, e-cigs are not regulated in the same way as medicines. This means there are no rules when it comes to the purity of the nicotine and so forth. Last month MEPs voted to restrict the availability of e-cigs in the future and it remains to be seen how many pubs and clubs will allow vaping on their premises if it is deemed to be harmful.
For me, switching to an e-cigarette has been unbelievably painless. In the three days since I started vaping I have had just two real cigarettes. I would normally have had at least 20 in that time. Maybe it’s the novelty factor, or maybe, despite my protestations to the contrary, it was just the right time for me to give up, but whatever the reason I have no doubt that the e-cigarette has helped enormously. It fits into my routine in the same way that real cigarettes did and I find myself enjoying my ‘e-cig moments’ almost as much as I savored the real thing.
And if the future of vapourising is threatened by government legislation and public bans, well, I still have something to rail against don’t I? And I do believe I shall do that most passionately.