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There’s a growing call to ban or restrict vaping

Vaping, while not good for you, is much less harmful than cigarettes. But does that fact encourage lots of non-smokers to take it up?

There’s a reason those photographs they put on cigarette packets are so gross: smoking can cause some really horrible diseases. Many of these also end in an early death: studies have shown that smoking can take ten years off your life expectancy. Smoking-related illness and deaths are obviously life-shattering for the people affected. They also hurt the economy, by upping healthcare costs and reducing the amount of work smokers do.

So there’s lots of reasons to get people to stop smoking. Governments in the UK and elsewhere have tried increasing public awareness about the risks of smoking (hence those gross photos) and taxing the crap out of cigarettes, in the hopes that the higher prices will put people off. And although these things have had an effect (smoking rates in the UK have fallen by 16 percent in a couple of decades), they’re hamstrung by one crucial thing: cigarettes are addictive, and an addictive need for something can override the knowledge that it’s dangerous or expensive to indulge in.

Enter Plan B: e-cigarettes, also called vapes. E-cigarettes are still addictive, but they don’t contain anything like as much of the bad, cancer-causing stuff found in regular cigarettes. The NHS suggests they’re 95 percent less harmful. So if everyone who currently smokes started vaping, we’d expect to see a huge dip in people getting sick from cigarette-diseases. All good stuff, right?

Well, maybe not. Because vaping is branded as low risk, and because it wasn’t originally subject to regulations stopping e-cigarette makers from advertising it as cool, or making vapes in appealing flavours, there’s a growing concern that it’s causing swathes of non-smokers, especially young ones, to take up the habit. And low-risk isn’t the same as risk free. A small proportion of a huge number of vapers falling sick could add up to more people overall than a large percentage of an ever-decreasing number of smokers.

Vapes, then, have the potential to really help some people and really hurt others. How we should handle them is a big question for us and our policymakers.

Read our explainer on: regulation

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