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We carried out a survey to document the personal experiences from a section of the online vaping community. Our main focus was to answer the question: “does vaping work as a quit smoking tool?” From the feedback we received, the answer is an overwhelming ‘yes’.
A small but vocal collection of public health experts repeatedly suggest legislators and policy makers should ignore personal anecdotes; while this is understandable if given from one or two people, it makes little sense when faced with large groups all saying the same thing.
We believe in vaping as a harm reduction tool. Public Health England (PHE) declared it to be at least 95% safer than smoking in August 2015. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) agreed with PHE, and added in their Nicotine Without Smoke report: “E-cigarettes appear to be effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking.”
Our survey reached over 3,000 people on social media. From that, 337 replied that gives us about an 11% response rate (over double what is expected from such activity usually). What is notable is the uniformity of response to certain key questions, the key one being whether vaping worked for them as a quit tool.
The 2% representing “Other” are those who still dual-fuel (smoke and vape). The length of time vaping demonstrates that it has kept the 98% from returning to cigarettes.
We identified a handful of dubious submissions from the responses and pulled those from the data set, leaving 330 genuine submissions. 99% of our respondents classified themselves as full-time smokers prior to switching to vaping.
We appreciate that this is a tainted sample group; we did not consider asking people who had tried vaping but returned to smoking. The problem for them, we believe, lies in the inadequacy of some starter kits to provide a satisfying vape. As can be seen from our results, respondents appear to be advanced vapers who are comfortable in tailoring their vape to give a satisfying experience.
Four fifths of the respondents are long-term vapers, clear indication that they found the switch from smoking to be preferable. While 2% continue to dual fuel, none of the rest of the respondents classify themselves as smokers any longer. Two thirds consider themselves to be “vapers” while the remaining people think of themselves as “non-smokers”.
But it’s the desire to escape from the harm of smoking that drove them here. The majority of respondents began smoking as young teens and smoked for a considerable number of years. As identified here, smoking cessation faces the twin difficulties of motivation and nicotine withdrawal.
Where vaping succeeds is that it delivers nicotine far more effectively as users can self-regulate their intake. Plus, it delivers it in a safer way that mimics smoking. The following chart illustrates the failure of traditional routes tobacco smokers make to escape from smoking:
Failure to escape from tobacco resulted from attempts mainly using nicotine gums, patches and inhalers – but 70% of the failures came from people attempting to go cold turkey. Vaping appears to be an easier transition for smokers looking to swap to something safer, but also offers the potential to gradual reduce nicotine content until clear of any addiction if that is what the user desires.
What makes the failed attempts understandable, and the success they experienced with vaping all the more remarkable, is that our survey illustrated not just the time people smoked for but also the volume. Most of the respondents reported that they previously smoked more than the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes per day, the rest stating up to a pack. Nobody claimed to be a light or social smoker.
Almost all of the respondents successfully quit an addiction to either traditional cigarettes or roll-up tobacco.
There are all manner of costs related to a smoking habit, and these are borne out in the reasons people gave for wanting to quit and continuing to vape. Respondents said they vape instead of smoking for the benefit of their health, the cost savings and (what places it above traditional NRT) for pleasure. Although the question asked for the main reason for vaping, many suggested that it is a combination of those three options.
Although being experienced in coil building is not essential to finding success with vaping, almost half of the replies showed that users always built their own. This said, sixteen percent of users never build their own coil and yet no longer smoke.
What powers the coils for our successful ex-smokers?
A regulated mod offering temperature control is used by 75% of respondents, 47% use non-TC regulated devices and 38% of people still love the simplicity of a mechanical mod. But what sits on top? What do our contributors prefer to pop their coils in?
By far the first choice among our vapers is the rebuildable tank, with drippers and the recent revelation that is the subohm clearomiser making up 90% of the preferred choices.
To be successful in making vape work as an alternative to smoking means finding a good set up as shown above – but it also means discovering what type of juice the user gains the most reward from in order to maintain the desire to quit.
Flavour profiles are reasonably evenly distributed after the 40% popularity of fruit flavours. A few years ago, the British market was dominated by tobacco flavours but in this survey it only occupies 11% of the replies. By far the majority of “Other” comments mentioned coffee as the flavour of choice.
Our story so far has been one of success, people successfully quit smoking and we have identified the type of vape gear that enabled them to do so. But what next?
In the short to medium term, the participants in our survey expressed content with being vapers and continuing to vape. Health “experts” opposed to the technology would claim that this illustrates a ‘failure to quit’. Given the previously cited reports from PHE and the RCP, we argue that the results are a glowing victory for harm reduction. Eighty five percent of people want to continue vaping and benefit from it being 95% safer than smoking and 10% see it as a stepping stone to no longer using nicotine.
The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) will challenge the ability to make DIY eliquids and the ease of buying premade juices next year. A third of our participants also believe it will change how they source their hardware. Just 3% intend to comply with the demands of the TPD. We would share with you some of the comments made about the TPD but children may be reading. Given the popularity and success of rebuildable tank atomisers, it’s not surprising that people aren’t looking forward to pointless volume limitations of 2ml.
One of the fears raised by the TPD was that it would limit the opportunity for current smokers to find out about vaping being a safer and more enjoyable alternative. Currently, it looks as though social media platforms are relatively unaffected and almost 40% of our success stories originated from direct human interaction. Plus, as the numbers of vapers has grown it increases the potential for these conversations to happen in the future.
Why is this important? Health. It has been noted in many scientific studies that vaping leads to health benefits for ex-smokers. Our survey revealed a catalogue of tobacco-related ailments people were suffering from prior to switching to vaping. 72% of people informed us that they suffered in some way from smoking while 13% revealed extreme conditions including heart attacks, strokes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In 1976, Professor Michael Russell wrote: “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar.” Vapers choose to use vape because it’s safer than smoking – but they also report a dramatic improvement in their health as a result of switching. A whopping 93% of respondents reported that they were healthier as a direct result of vaping – people who had desperately struggled with previous smoking cessation attempts.
Comments made referred to improvements in breathing and a reduction in coughing. People also claimed to suffer from fewer chest infections and, what should delight public health officials, many claimed to be partaking in exercise such as running and cycling. It is disconcerting that the media doesn’t appear to report this aspect of vaping, but then vapers feel strongly about the negative coverage in the whole.
Respondents feel that the media fixates on negative stories and gives a misleading impression as to theoretical dangers at the expense of actual benefits. A recent study carried out by Professor Robert West (on behalf of Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health) found “a declining minority of current smokers believe e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes”. The media has a direct impact on the poor perception of vaping among the people it would help most.
The relatively high safety message given out by PHE and the RCP resonates with most vapers but some believe vaping is totally safe, there’s no evidence to support that view. The difference in perception between current vapers and existing smokers is becoming ever more striking. Hopefully ongoing dialogue can resolve this.
Almost 60% of our participants believe that vape products should be available on prescription to current smokers looking to switch., with a further 25% undecided on the issue. The same level of support is not forthcoming for current smokers under the age of 18. 51% of our respondents feel they should not have access with only 26% thinking teens should be able to vape in order to escape from smoking.
Our final question asked people what their biggest concern related to vaping was. By far the most common theme was over-regulation by governments and the possible impact on current vapers and smokers. Many see it as possibly forcing them back to smoking, others lament the restriction on equipment and some fear smokers will be put off trying vaping in the first place. Some worry about future restrictions on the types of eliquid that can be sold or access to basic ingredients in order to make their own.
Another theme was that of media coverage, as was highlighted in one of the survey questions. The third most cited topic was that of research and long-term health impact being an unknown. While the latter might be of importance to current vapers with no intention of quitting, it has little impact on those who use vaping as a vehicle to leave nicotine altogether. The trouble with long-term studies will be the time it takes to carry them out – but it should be noted that there are no reports of people being treated for vape-related illnesses at the moment.
This was an exceptionally interesting activity to carry out and we will be sending press releases out (hopefully) to encourage some positive news coverage. Our question regarding the efficacy of vaping was emphatically answered: vaping works. Research tells us it’s healthier than smoking, our replies detail the health improvements that have been experienced and the success achieved. Thank you to everyone who took part.