Written in collaboration with EDGE Vaping

Ever since vaping entered mainstream culture, there has been an ongoing discussion about its potential health implications. Public Health England’s review in 2015 suggested that vaping is likely to be 95% less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes.

This finding has been upheld in subsequent annual reviews since 2015, including the latest report issued on 29th September 2022. As a result, the UK government has initiated vaping programmes to aid individuals in their smoking cessation journey. However, despite this compelling evidence, there is still limited knowledge about the long-term effects of vaping.

The scarcity of concrete data is mainly due to conflicting information. Many participants in vaping trials are former smokers, making it difficult to distinguish health issues resulting from past smoking habits versus new vaping practices. This challenge has been highlighted in various reports, including the aforementioned one.

EDGE Vaping explores the impact of vaping on the lungs, its potential for recovery, and the importance of consulting a GP.

Will vaping harm my lungs?

The certainty of this question is yet to be determined. There is an increasing body of evidence suggesting that vaping could be a safer alternative to tobacco, recognised by several UK authorities, including the NHS, as an effective aid for smoking cessation. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that inhaling any substance other than air is likely to have some adverse effects.

Similar to air pollution and cigarette smoking, vaping introduces chemicals into our lungs that are not naturally present. While evidence indicates that vaping poses less risk than smoking, which contains numerous known carcinogens, it does not mean vaping is entirely harmless. This is why those who have never smoked or vaped are strongly advised against starting.

Numerous health concerns related to vaping have emerged, such as ’popcorn lung’ and lung disease. However, many of these issues have been associated with specific contexts and are not typical of mainstream vaping products. Instances of harm often arise from individuals concocting their own e-liquids or purchasing from less regulated markets, such as the USA.

In the UK, adherence to the Tobacco and Related Products Regulation (TRPR) ensures that harmful ingredients commonly found in flavourings are prohibited, and all vape liquids intended for sale must be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Though these regulations provide some assurance of the safety of UK vaping products, it’s essential to acknowledge the potential implications of inhaling any substance other than air.

Our complete understanding of how vaping affects the lungs is still a work in progress. Some studies suggest that it may hinder recovery from infections and potentially exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

Can I recover from lung damage caused by vaping?

Answering this question accurately is challenging due to our limited knowledge of the long-term lung damage caused by vaping. The evidence, both professional and anecdotal, often contradicts and polarises, making it difficult for the general public to find clear answers.

Jatish Shah, Director of Shah Deaddiction & Rehabilitation Service Centre, explains that the lungs can heal after quitting vaping, with noticeable improvements in a matter of days to months. However, severe conditions like emphysema or lung cancer may be irreversible. Yet, no conclusive evidence points to vaping as a cause for these serious health problems, partly due to the difficulty in distinguishing data between former smokers and vapers.

Stephen Broderick, a US-based John Hopkins Medical Lung Surgeon, highlights the lack of knowledge about the short and long-term effects of vaping and the specific e-cigarette components responsible for potential harm.

However, it’s important to note that Mr Broderick’s observations may not fully apply to UK vapers. The UK’s stricter safety regulations have prohibited dangerous chemicals in vape liquids.

Cancer Research UK acknowledges that e-cigarettes are still a relatively new product, making it too soon to know their long-term health effects. Nevertheless, they go on to state that many studies indicate that vaping is far less harmful than smoking due to the absence of cancer-causing tobacco and significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals.

Though e-cigarettes are not risk-free and can cause side effects, these tend to diminish over time with continued use. However, their long-term effects remain uncertain.

Consult your GP

If you have been vaping and experiencing new issues like coughing, wheezing or chest pain, it’s essential to seek advice from your healthcare provider. They are best equipped to guide you regarding your health.

The same applies if you’re considering quitting smoking and think vaping might help. Before making any decisions, it’s crucial to consult with your GP and, if needed, reach out to the NHS Stop Smoking Service for assistance in planning your quitting journey.

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