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The Great E-Cig Debate: Are Doctors at Loggerheads Again?

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To vape or not to vape? This is the really big question on the minds of many — and the mixed messages from experts isn’t helping

Have you been following the great e-cigarette debate? Whether you're a smoker or a vaper, it's hard to avoid the bickering among doctors as it plays out in the media.

One day, health professionals are telling us e-cigs are the best thing since sliced bread; the next, they're warning of lifelong addiction among young people and should be avoided like the plague. The medical community, it appears, can rarely agree on anything that's good or bad for us, from what to eat or drink (fat was bad and carbs were good; now fat is good and carbs are bad) or even how long to exercise. No wonder we're all so confused.

Where do we really stand on e-cigarettes? Does anyone truly know? Let’s have a look at the latest medical advice (and confusion), and see if we can get a glimmer of truth.

The Dawn, and Rise, of the E-Cigarette

Unfortunately, despite these clear, fact-driven arguments, there is opposition. Like anything new, initially, there is a great deal of confusion over whether it's beneficial or not. So it is with the e-cigarette. Although they've only been widely available everywhere for the last few years, it may surprise you to know a patent for an e-cig was filed in the United States way back in 1927. Since then, there were various attempts to produce such a device, but it wasn't until 2003 that  a usable e-cig appeared, due to the work of a Chinese pharmacist whose father died from lung cancer following a lifetime of heavy smoking.

Confused senior doctor asking, are you crazy?

E-cigarettes have really caught the imagination of markets across the globe in the last couple of years, with their popularity soaring all around the world. There are now around three million vapers in the UK and more than 1,700 shops selling e-cigs – half of which opened just in the last year. In the United States, the number of people who vape has been estimated at close to 10 million.

All this interest in e-cigs is largely down to emerging advice from medics that using e-cigarettes can be better for a person's health than smoking tobacco and all the many cancer-causing chemicals the latter contains. But some doctors are not convinced, leading to something of a rift in the medical community about who is right about e-cigs.

Conflicting Advice on E-Cigs

Critics of e-cigarettes point to their nicotine content as a reason to ban them, saying they can lead to addiction and health problems. A top doctor in the US has warned against advising young people in particular to take up the habit, even if they're trying to give up tobacco smoking. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, says vaping could lead to mood disorders and problems with brain development among adolescents. He didn't specifically comment on e-cigarette use among older people, who may have been smoking tobacco for many years and desperate to quit.

Across the pond, however, it's a different vaping story. In fact, it's the reverse. Medical experts at Public Health England say in a report that e-cigarettes should be used if people want to stop smoking tobacco altogether, as vaping delivers the nicotine that smokers crave without the toxic chemicals that are emitted during the burning of tobacco. (And, importantly, some e-cigs liquid don’t contain any nicotine, while others have varying levels, from high to low, so vapers can work their way down and try to wean themselves off nicotine altogether.)

“In a nutshell, best estimates show e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful to your health than normal cigarettes, and when supported by a smoking cessation service, help most smokers to quit tobacco altogether,” said Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie.

What to Believe About E-Cigs?

That view is now being held by growing numbers people who may once have been sceptical about the health benefits of taking up vaping — but not everyone. A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that in 2012, half of people surveyed believed that e-cigs were less harmful than traditional tobacco smoking, while two years later, the figure was just under, at 43%. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, considering the US Food & Drug Administration’s efforts to now class e-cigs as “tobacco products” despite the fact that tobacco is a product you will never find in an e-cig

Almost everyone is agreed, however, that vaping is a far safer alternative to smoking tobacco. New figures show that in England alone, 18,000 smokers managed to finally kick the habit in 2015 by using e-cigarettes. Hardly anyone among us is going to argue that that is not a good thing.

The Royal College of Surgeons in the UK has also thrown its hefty weight behind the use of e-cigs as a way to stop smoking. In an extensive report, it says that doctors and others should encourage people who want to stop smoking to take up vaping, and that evidence shows it's "much safer" than smoking, while at the same time helping smokers to quit. It also dismissed fears in some quarters that using e-cigs might eventually lead people who had never smoked to start using tobacco.

Despite the positive stories, statistics and opinions on the use of e-cigarettes, it seems that the public opinion on e-cigs refuses to improve. Why? Well, as we all know, perception can be reality.

For all those above-board, factual studies and reports, it will often be the stories that appear more controversial that grab the attention of people. Questionable studies, carried out in irrelevant situations and with hand-picked results to back up an argument against e-cigs, are bound to cause more of a stir. The only way to combat this is for the vaping community to continue to support their favourite brands and products, as well as continue pushing for the unbiased, scientifically sound studies on e-cigs to be promoted. Only then will the misty clouds hanging over e-cigarettes be lifted.

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