Since 2004 when electronic cigarettes were introduced to the UK, they’ve seen a steady rise in popularity and sales. By 2014, 52% of smokers were reported to have tried e-cigarettes, with 18% of smokers using them regularly. It’s clearly a trend that is only going to continue growing, with more and more countries around the world importing e-cigs.
But what makes them so successful? It would seem that a number of factors are at play. First, the perceived health benefits of vaping instead of smoking are enormous. The links between tobacco and various cancers, respiratory problems and heart disease are well documented, and the vast majority of the chemicals responsible are not present in electronic cigarettes. Furthermore, with the variation in nicotine available with e-cigs, vapers have the ability to limit their nicotine intake – a valuable asset in the struggle to quit completely.
Because one of the key components in e-cigarettes – the e-liquid or e-juice that produces the vapour users inhale – has so few ingredients compared to standard cigarettes, it also inspires confidence among those seeking a healthier way to satisfy their habit. With its main ingredients based around glycerine (a natural liquid produced from plant oils), propylene glycol (a synthetic additive used in toothpastes and cosmetic products), nicotine, water and flavourings, e-liquid is perceived as being less chemical-intense and therefore better for the body. Indeed, the majority of the chemicals found in e-liquids are from the flavourings – and therefore are food-grade and classed as ‘safe’. In contrast to the 4000+ chemicals found in regular cigarettes, it would seem this perception isn’t far off the truth.
The lack of medical research into long-term effects of vaping doesn’t seem to be putting anyone off, either. Most leading health organisations recognise the potential of e-cigarettes in aiding smoking cessation, but all agree that further studies and stringent regulations are required before e-cigs can be formally recommended in the same way as NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) products like patches and gums. Yet when set against the very real, immediate dangers of traditional smoking, it’s not surprising that many people are prepared to take the chance of possibly contracting health issues over the almost certainty of doing through using normal cigarettes.
Another factor driving the ongoing success of electronic cigarettes is the cost and availability. For someone smoking 20 cigarettes a day, switching to vaping saves them on average between 50-75% of their yearly costs, depending on if they use disposable or rechargeable e-cigs. They’re also widely available in dedicated high street stores, as well as in supermarkets and online, through specific sellers or on sites like Amazon, although in the case of the latter they are still supplied by individual companies.
A further incentive driving the e-cigarette industry is the proliferation of celebrities who have been spotted vaping at various events. Hollywood bigwigs such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Pattinson and Johnny Depp have all come out verbally and visually in favour of e-cigs; Kate Moss and Lady Gaga are also fans. Katherine Heigl showed her support in the most obvious of ways when she whipped out her e-cig and started vaping in the middle of an interview on the David Letterman show. And if there’s anything guaranteed to make a product sell, it’s seeing the stars sporting one.
Of course, you’d think that this universal acclaim would pose problems for the world’s tobacco and cigarette industries – but naturally, they’re in on the act. In 2013, British American Tobacco launched Vype, its own brand of e-cigarette, and in the same year, Imperial Tobacco launched Puritane in partnership with Boots UK. Lorillard Inc. has bought two electronic cigarette companies in recent years, and Japan Tobacco acquired the UK-based E-Lites brand in June 2014. It is very clear, then, that tobacco companies see a definitive future for e-cigarettes, whether in conjunction with standard cigarettes or as a replacement product, and are ensuring their own continuing commercial success with such buyouts.
In the light of such evidence, it’s safe to say that electronic cigarettes are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Whether further investigations will reveal additional benefits or any disadvantages to using them is yet to be seen, but either way, vaping has carved itself a significant niche in First World markets, and certainly won’t give it up easily.