Vaping: all hot air, or a cause for concern?

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Vaping: all hot air, or a cause for concern?

Vaping by now is not a new trend but has become increasingly popular over the past few years as a cigarette alternative, as well as a social smoking movement in its own right. Vaping, in essence, is the act of inhaling the vapour produced by a device such as an e-cigarette or vapouriser. The vapour that is inhaled originates from a specially formulated e-liquid or concentrate that mostly contains nicotine as well as a flavouring component. The vast appeal of vaping is associated with the fact that it is seen as being a ‘cleaner’ substitute for smoking in that a vaporiser or e-cigarette usually has a sleek, visually appealing exterior, it produces a thicker plume of smoke that dissipates faster than normal cigarette smoke would, and unlike cigarettes, the smoke produced has a pleasant or non-offensive smell and taste.

There are two kinds of vaping processes available that are dependent on the type of vapouriser or e-cigarette chosen; these are conduction and convection vaping. Conduction heating happens when the heat is transferred from the heating chamber to the flavourant (e-liquid) and allows for the vapouriser to produce vapour quicker. Convection heating works by heating the e-liquid by blowing hot air through it, therefore creating a smoother ‘smoking’ experience.  Convection style vapourisers are generally more expensive because of this. There is an extensive range of vapourisers and e-cigarettes available on the market that varies in price, shape, size and the smoking experience. The flavoured e-liquids available are designed to enhance the ‘vaping’ experience; these flavours often contain nicotine, which is where the debate about the pros and cons of vaping versus smoking find their start.

Vaping is a well-established smoking alternative in South Africa, as well as utilised as a social activity, with vaping cafes and stores populating shopping malls and suburban areas.  Like most countries where vaping has become particularly prevalent, the potentially harmful effects of vaping are being explored in South Africa in order to determine how it should be classified. The executive director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS); Savera Kalideen has stated that vaping products should not be compared to cigarettes, but rather compared to ‘itself as it comes with its own harms’, including acting as a ‘gateway’ for teens and adults into the world of smoking according to the World Health Organisation’s observations. According to Kalideen, the NCAS agrees that “the law (Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act) should be amended, because there is evidence that vaping harms. It is not covered under the law because there were not e-cigarettes or vaping when the law was passed. We know they contain nicotine and they can lead to increased blood pressure, lung disease and damage to the heart. You can use them on your journey to quit; they are a tool to give up. They are still harmful and are not risk-free.” However, there are also as many statistics published in favour of vaping as a viable method to help people quit smoking and break the habit, as well as the fact that they are seen as being less obviously harmful than cigarettes.

Kabir Kaleechurn, the director of the Vapour Product Association (VPA) in South Africa insists that a distinction needs to be made between smoking and vaping: “the two smoking processes are different. Tobacco smoking relies on burning of tobacco, the cause of all cigarette-smoking health risks while vaping relies on a gentle heating process to deliver its nicotine.”  Whether the concerns surrounding the harmful effects of vaping are well-founded, or a load of hot air, one thing is for certain – as long as smoking retains its global demand, vaping will remain a popular alternative.


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