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Vaping - Friend or Foe?

14 January 2020 - Dr Robert Walker

Where are we with vaping? Are e-cigarettes the shining knight who will rid the world of cigarettes or dangerous products wrapped up in clever marketing with the ‘unintended consequence’ of luring young people into the world of smoking? 

Vaping is a subject we will cover in our 2020 Hot Topics courses. There has been plenty to discuss and digest over the past few weeks and months. A spate of serious lung injuries, 47 deaths and counting, has the US and India announcing it will ban e-cigarettes completely. Public Health England continues to maintain e-cigs are a much safer alternative to smoking.

Smoking is BAD. This can be easily forgotten when we discuss the risks of vaping. So the first question is whether vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes? If it is safer then what about all those patients in the US with serious lung injuries? These incidents are a serious wake-up call to the potential risks of vaping with 450 cases of severe pulmonary disease and forty seven deaths in November 2019. However, the outbreak appears confined to the US where products are not as well regulated.  Vaping has been around for about a decade so if acute pulmonary injury was a common adverse effect we would expect to have seen cases elsewhere in the world by now. 

So, if current smokers want to quit smoking and are considering vaping, one key message is to use standard devices and not contaminate or add other products. If they do the short term risks appear low. But what about the long term risks? 

What about the exposure of vaping to children and young adults? Is vaping the ‘cool’ thing to do? No doubt many of us are considerably concerned about this. India has recently announced a total ban on e-cigarettes to stop a ‘youth epidemic’. Although one can’t help but feel that this decision was largely influenced by India being one of the biggest global producers of tobacco. 

So how do we deal with this uncertainty? My view is that we need to resist what seems to be an increasing trend in society by trying to deconstruct complex issues into a simple binary decision of ‘friend’ or ‘foe’. Medicine is never that simple, and we need to disregard the one sided inflammatory news headlines, embrace uncertainty and help our patients make informed choices given the information we currently have. Come to Hot Topics 2020 where we will discuss in more detail answers based on the data that is already available and think about the questions the research still needs to answer.

Hot Topics Courses

If you found this useful and you are interested in more Hot Topics education, see our schedule of live Hot Topics events for 2020.

Can't make it to the workshops? Register for our Hot Topics online course.

CPD Points

Participants of the one-day course are eligible for 12 Category 2 RACGP QI&CPD Points and 6 CPD hours for Nurses (Pending accreditation). Participants who complete a post-course activity will be eligible for 40 Category 1 RACGP QI&CPD Points (Pending accreditation). Certificates of completion can be provided for other health professionals requiring evidence of participation.

This article was originally published on the NB Medical Education Hot Topics Blog. Edited for Australia by Dr Joanna Bruce.

Dr Robert Walker
Dr Robert Walker

Rob Walker is a GP in Basingstoke. He is a member of the NB Medical team charged with reviewing and writing material for the Hot Topics course and book.

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