Researchers from Imperial College London examined the use of electronic cigarettes across the European Union between 2012 and 2014 and found that, on average, the percentage of people who have tried vaping has increased from 7.2 percent to 11.6 percent. At the same time, the number of people who believe electronic cigarettes are hazardous and addictive has also risen significantly.
The study, published in the Tobacco Control journal, used data from 53,000 adults aged 15 and older, from 27 regions of Europe. Over the two year period, they were asked to answer questions regarding e-cigarette use, including reasons for use, awareness of consequences in health and current tobacco use. By-country results varied significantly, with France registering the highest increase in e-cig use, from 7.3 percent in 2012, to 21.3 percent in 2014.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Portugal had the lowest e-cig use frequency, with just 5.7 percent of people using them in 2014. Germany, Italy and Spain also ranked very low in their citizen’s willingness to try electronic cigarettes, which is not very surprising, considering that the two Latin countries have become very hostile to vaping in recent years. Both Italy and Spain used to be thriving e-cigarette markets until Government clamped down and virtually pulverized small businesses.
In the UK, the proportion of adults who have tried an e-cigarette has increased from 8.9 per cent to 15.5 per cent between 2012 and 2014.
The average increase in e-cig use across the European Union can definitely be considered as a positive sign, although it doesn’t take a genius to predict that the draconian provisions of the newly implemented EU Tobacco Directive will reverse the growing trend moving forward. But the research from Imperial College London also yielded some very disturbing findings:
For example, in 2012, 27 percent (one in four) of EU citizens thought e-cigs were toxic, but in 2014 that figure had risen to an alarming average of 51.5 percent. In the UK, 38 percent of adults believed e-cigs are unhealthy in 2014, up from just 15 percent in 2012. But that is still only the second lowest figures revealed in the research. In Sweden, Holland and Latvia, over 70 percent of the population regarded electronic cigarettes as harmful, in 2014.
In 2014, 47 percent of respondents said they did not believe electronic cigarettes were any less dangerous than combustible cigarettes, up from 38 percent in 2012. Almost a third of respondents – 29 percent – said they did not know whether e-cigarettes were harmful, which indicates a high level of uncertainty regarding their effects and a lack of information among EU citizens.
But, what has led to this increasingly hostile attitude toward electronic cigarettes in the past two years? The vast majority of studies show e-cigarettes carry a much lower risk that tobacco analogs and do not act as a gateway to smoking for youths. Moreover, research shows that modern vaping devices deliver nicotine much more efficiently than first generation e-cigarettes, which makes them a reliable tool in smoking cessation attempts, and some of the world’s most renowned public health experts have spoken in favor of them. So what gives?
Well, I for one, think it has a lot to do with how the media has been portraying electronic cigarettes. They hardly ever mention positive research – which mostly shows up on vaping forums and obscure blogs, like this one – choosing instead to focus on negative aspects like e-cigarette explosions, unsupported claims, controversial studies and even blatant misinformation, or just spinning otherwise objective statements. For example, when reporting on this Imperial College London study, English newspaper The Telegraph began with this line “Diseases caused by e-cigarettes could emerge within 10 or 20 years, researchers have warned as new figures showed the numbers of people vaping in Britain has nearly doubled in recent years.” Yes, the lead researcher did say something about the possible long-term risk of vaping, but that was not the study itself was about. The readers don’t know that, though, and all they’ll see is a scary title and opening paragraph on what is considered a reliable news outlet.
Apart from the few vaping enthusiast who actually have the time and patience to research Big Media stories, the general public simply takes everything they say as accurate, relaibale information and form their opinions accordingly. This media brainwashing is the only explanation I can find for the increasing number of people around the world who believe vaping is just as dangerous, if not more so, than smoking, because nothing else makes sense.
As to what Dr Filippos Filippidis, lead author of the research, said: “This research shows e-cigarettes are becoming very popular. However there is debate about the risks and benefits associated with e-cigarettes. For instance we don’t know whether we may start to see diseases emerge in 10-20 years’ time associated with some of the ingredients. We urgently need more research into the devices so that we can answer these questions.”
“Not many countries have done what the UK has done and I would be a bit more cautious,” he added. On the other hand it might be a great opportunity for harm reduction and if you wait for the answers for the next five years millions of people might not have been helped. But I think it’s still a bet.” He is referring to the UK’s decision to recommend electronic cigarettes as smoking cessation aids, when other countries and even the World Health Organization keep issuing warning regarding their use.
I respect Dr. Filippidis’ opinion, but I don’t see how e-cigarettes are any different than any other disruptive technologies. Were we one hundred percent certain mobile phones or Wi-Fi were safe for our health when we launched them commercially? No, and we’re still researching their effects, but initial studies showed they did not pose any serious risks and the benefits definitely outweighed the risks, and look how much they changed our lives. Maybe in 20 years, someone will discover they cause cancer. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible, so I guess we took a bet on them too.
E-cigs have the added bonus of potentially saving millions of lives in the short term, so why can’t we take a chance on them, instead of protecting Big Tobacco with draconian regulations and constant media disinformation? Do as much research as is necessary, but until you find hard evidence that e-cigs are just as hazardous to our health as combustible ones, you have no excuse for refusing to support their use by current smokers.