Healthy Smoking

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It's bad news for celebs in the showbiz city, such as Simon Cowell and Katherine Heigl who've all been snapped 'vaping'. Poor Leonardo DiCaprio, who has homes in LA and New York, will now be forced to stub out his smokeless cigarettes on both sides of the country.

But the craze for e-cigarettes hasn't just been taken up by the stars. New research shows that more than 50,000 smokers are estimated to have made the switch from tobacco to e-cigarettes in a global industry worth in excess of €1.1 bn.

Galway businessman Declan Connolly set up his electronic cigarette company, two years ago after swapping to vaping following 27 years as a smoker.

"I bought a device online and people started asking me where I'd got it – that's how the business started," he explains.

Although the first smokeless non-tobacco cigarette was patented as early as 1963, the modern device, which uses battery-generated cartridges to heat a liquid (usually infused with nicotine) and create a vapor, appeared around 2004 in China.

Declan Connolly reckons we're now into a third generation of electronic devices.

"The first generation was the disposable ones in the shops that look like cigarettes, now the more popular devices are those based around a rechargeable battery. But there's a third generation that's sprung up with enthusiasts creating coils and heating elements to make their own devices –there are a lot of hobbyists out there."

But aside from the techies, the biggest fans of e-cigarettes are former smokers. Although the devices aren't sold as quit-smoking aids, Connolly admits his main demographic of buyers are people who have smoked for 10-30 years and want to get away from tobacco.

"One of the big appeals for these buyers is that when you inhale an e-cigarette you feel a bit of a 'kick' in the back of your throat," he explains. "It also provides the hand-to-mouth ritual, and then there's the fact that most people starting off will try and find a flavor of e-liquid that replicates what they used to smoke."

But the close parallels between vapor cigarettes and the real thing has thrown up some problems with legislation.

In December, New York City banned e-cigarettes in all places where regular cigarettes are already prohibited.

The health and safety department banned electronic cigarettes on campus in November. "Reaction from students has been quite polarized," says Al McConnell, editor of The Edition, the college's independent newspaper which broke the story of the ban. "It's also been difficult to enforce as e-cigarettes' popularity continues to rise. You can see that on campus, they're becoming more popular among students."

He adds: "I think it's a tricky issue because of the inherent uncertainty around the products. The Students' Union is currently working on its own research into e-cigarettes before it takes any stance and I think the ban, and DIT's smoking policy, will have to be returned to when more is known about them."

Which is, of course, the greatest area of concern – in a new product, where the effects have not been measured over any lengthy period of time, who knows how safe vaping really is?

The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has refused to endorse the product. Health Minister James Reilly has announced that he plans to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s over concerns that puffing on a pseudo-cigarette could prove a gateway to smoking the real thing.

It's a fear, Declan Connolly, who doesn't sell to under 18s, strongly denies. "I'd like to rubbish that idea that vaping is a gateway to smoking. If someone tried e-cigarettes, they would never become a smoker. Vaping tastes nicer and it's cheaper," he says.

"Health's a major reason why people turn to e-cigarettes over smoking. It's combustion that causes all the trouble in cigarettes but e-cigarettes have vapor, not smoke and there's no tar. Vaping won't re-normalize smoking because it's completely different."

Tobacco-related disease accounts for some 5,500 deaths in Ireland every year, with tobacco consumption the biggest cause of cancer and chest diseases and a significant factor in cardiovascular disease and exacerbated diabetes.

But eliminating tobacco doesn't necessarily mean nicotine infused e-cigarettes are healthy because nicotine is a vasoconstrictor that narrows the blood vessels, raises blood pressure and is also highly addictive.

'In the absence of appropriate regulation and evidence, we can't recommend e-cigarettes," says Kevin O'Hagan, health promotion manager at the ICS. "They may not have the many poisonous, cancer-causing chemicals that tobacco smoke has, but it's unclear what the long term health impacts are." He adds: "E-cigarettes are marketed as recreational consumer products. They make no claims for quitting and they're not currently a proven form of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).

"Until their effectiveness as smoking cessation aids is established and we can be assured that they don't cause any harm to the user or any health risks of second-hand exposure, we're urging people to take caution in using them."

Ultimately the ICS would like to see e-cigarettes regulated under medicinal products or medical devices legislation, something retailers like Declan Connolly are keen to avoid.

"I'm all for regulation, there are some poorer quality products out there and people need to know that what they're inhaling is safe and approved," he explains.

"But I would hate e-cigarettes to go down the medicine regulation route because people who vape aren't sick."

Nor is he happy with the devices being included under the current EU Tobacco Products Directive, which may bring with it limitations on devices size and the amount of nicotine that can be included.

"I'd like to see e-cigarettes regulated under a separate category, because they're not a tobacco product, but it's a growing industry and pharmaceutical companies are lobbying viciously to get them made a medicine and tobacco companies are also lobbying – there are interesting times ahead."

'All my family has switched to e-cigs'

Mum-of-two Myriam Prendergast (49) from Tipperary town was one of a family of smokers before she discovered vaping. Now they've all converted to e-cigarettes, she explains.

"I bought an electronic cigarette for my mum to try two years ago. She's 70 and had been a smoker all her life but since trying vaping, she's been off them.

"My dad switched to e-cigarettes too; so did my husband and my daughter – it was listening to all them sing their praises that persuaded me to give them a go.

"I haven't smoked a cigarette now in four months and when I went to the doctor to get my carbon monoxide levels checked, they'd gone down drastically.

"Instead of smoking a cigarette that has 4,000 chemicals in it, I'm inhaling a vapour that has three flavours and nicotine – and although I started off on 24mg of nicotine I'm now down to 16mg.

"I like how I still get the sensation of smoking a cigarette. I can have one with my morning coffee or after a meal and I'm not pulling my hair out wanting a smoke."

IT consultant Hugh McCormick (53) from Ballycastle, Co Antrim, has saved €2,500 since switching from smoking to vaping last October.

He says: "My main reason for making the switch was down to health concerns. I'd been smoking for almost 40 years and I felt like I was playing Russian rulette with my health.

"But saving money has been a nice bonus; instead of spending €140 a week on cigarettes I'm spending about €10 on juice.

"I found ezSmoke online and deliberately chose an e-juice close in flavour to the brand of cigarette I smoked.

"For the first time I'm convinced I'll never touch a tobacco product again.

"Hopefully in time I'll let go off nicotine completely – I've already reduced the level – but I'm not too worried if I don't stop vaping."