E-cigarettes are now widely acknowledged by public health officials as a useful stop smoking method, but some people remain confused about their safety compared to tobacco.
To mark National No Smoking Day, we talked to Doncaster-born vaper Terry Walker about his switch to e-cigarettes after seven decades of smoking.
Fifteen years have passed since electronic cigarettes were first introduced to the Chinese market. Invented by pharmacist Hon Lik, the innovative device had the unique ability to give smokers both the nicotine hit they craved and the ritual habit of handling cigarettes without the harmful effect of burned tobacco.
A vaping phenomenon soon spread across the world, with e-cigarettes becoming one of the most successful quitting methods for smokers looking to improve their health and finally kick their smoking habit for good.
In 2015, Public Health England (PHE) officially backed the devices after finding them at least 95% less harmful than tobacco, saying smokers should consider switching to e-cigarettes while seeking professional support from local stop smoking services.
Further independent evidence reviews published by PHE in 2018 and 2019 found that vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping has substantial health benefits.
However, many remain confused about vaping and its relative safety.
In Yorkshire, approximately half a million smokers and ex-smokers have used e-cigarettes. But a recent survey commissioned by Yorkshire Cancer Research suggests that a quarter of the 700,000 smokers remaining in the region would not try vaping, with many wrongly believing that it’s just as bad as smoking.
Doncaster-born vaper Terry Walker wants this to change. Thanks to pressure from friends, he started smoking at just 13 years old and continued the habit for the next seven decades.
Terry using his e-cigarette
It wasn’t until Terry was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – the same disease that had caused the death of his only son - that he started to think seriously about quitting.
The retired scientist searched the internet for any evidence that vaping might be harmful to his lungs, and couldn’t find any.
“I became a guinea pig by switching to vaping and then arranging with my GP to have annual lung function tests in order to find out how harmful it really was,” Terry, now 87, explains. “My lung function increased from 50% of normal to 88% of normal in four years, and then it stabilised. My health and quality of life improved significantly. My chest infections reduced. I was amazed by the recuperative power of my body in only four years, despite more than 69 years of abuse.”
Following his experience, Terry has become an active advocate for vaping. He was recently invited to attend the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw, Poland, where he had the opportunity to meet e-cigarette inventor Hon Lik.
Terry meeting Hon Lik at the Forum
“I thanked him for improving the quality and length of my remaining years. His closing remark was that he felt I would be the first vaper to reach the age of 100,” Terry said.
“For many the electronic cigarette has become the most effective nicotine delivery system ever developed, allowing hardened smokers to change from smoking tobacco to vaping nicotine, quickly and effectively. It addresses most of the elements that give pleasure to smokers. One does not feel they have irrevocably stopped smoking but merely changed one cigarette for a much safer type.”
In 2018, Yorkshire Cancer Research launched a campaign called Vape to Quit, designed to help inform Yorkshire smokers about the benefits of e-cigarettes as a tool to quit smoking.
Tobacco smoking is responsible for 16 different types of cancer and is the leading cause of early death in Yorkshire. It causes 7 in 10 lung cancers, 4 in 10 bladder cancers and 1 in 5 liver cancers.
For this reason, Yorkshire Cancer Research is committed to reducing the number of people that smoke in the region by providing clear and accurate information about e-cigarettes.
The charity is also working with organisations and businesses across the county to help them develop evidence-based e-cigarette policies that support those wishing to quit by vaping, so they are not treated in the same way as smokers.
Across England, the role of e-cigarettes in reducing harm from tobacco is becoming more widely acknowledged. In 2017, the Department of Health’s Five Year Tobacco Control Plan stated that the government would seek to support consumers in stopping smoking by adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products, including e-cigarettes.
The plan also suggested that steps would be taken to create a range of safe and effective e-cigarette products that could potentially be made available for NHS prescription.
In March 2018, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published new guidance recommending that healthcare professionals help people make informed decisions on the use of e-cigarettes. PHE has committed to providing evidence to assist healthcare professionals in delivering this support.
Terry added: “The UK government is the first in the world to formally recognise the importance of this ground breaking harm reduction technique. Vaping allows us, for the first time, the opportunity to break the scourge of tobacco and realise a smoke-free future for our children.”
• Public Health England – Evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018
• Public Health England – E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products; evidence review 2019
• Fingertips – Public Health Profiles
• Office of National Statistics – E-cigarette use in England
• Department of Health – Towards a Smokefree Generation