Rewind 60 years in the UK and you’d find smokers lighting up pretty much anywhere and everywhere – at the local pub, inside restaurants, even at the office.
In the time since we’ve seen a significant reduction in the number of places where smoking is allowed, alongside plenty of promotion about the dangers associated with cigarettes, meaning many hundreds of thousands have stubbed out the habit for good.
So what do we know about the effects of smoking and vaping?
In 2007, smoking was banned in public indoor spaces and a decade later cigarette packets were standardised and the health warnings on them made more prominent, with shop displays and advertising also now against the law.
Has smoking been eradicated in the UK thanks to all the legal changes?
Around 14% of adults now say they smoke cigarettes (with a slightly higher percentage of men admitting to the habit than women) – a far cry from the 55% who were sparking up in the 1960s.
While a decreasing trend in smokers over the past 60 years is good news for them, their families – and of course those lobbying for a smoke-free UK – there are still at least 6 million people who have continued to smoke despite the legal changes, and the continued campaigns around the health risks.
Because, as most will be aware, cigarettes are known to:
- Be the large cause of preventable cause of cancer and deaths in the UK, increasing a person’s risk of 15 different types of cancer (Cancer Research UK).
- Cause coronary heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, damage to lungs leading to COPD or pneumonia; and they can also worsen asthma, reduce fertility, and cause pregnancy complications including miscarriage and stillbirth (NHS).
- Have a detrimental impact on financial wellbeing too – a 20-a-day habit amounts to an approximate cost of £4,500 a year (based on average costs of £12.50 per pack).
And, not all smokers have gone ‘cold turkey’ on the habit – many have instead switched to vaping, a tobacco-free alternative which was introduced to the UK in 2005 and touted as an option which was potentially either low-risk or even risk-free according to some.
It’s now estimated around 7% of adults in Britain use an e-cigarette – meaning it’s around half as prevalent as smoking.
Is vaping really risk-free?
Although they’ve been around in the UK for almost two decades, compared to cigarettes there are far fewer studies which have been undertaken on vapes – and we have relatively little data on the long-term effects.
However, research from the USA – shared by the American Lung Association – has raised concerns around the ‘number of dangerous chemicals’ in e-cigarettes, which can cause lung and heart disease, as well as the inclusion of a weed-killing herbicide (acrolein) which can cause acute lung injury and COPD.
While there is no clear link between vaping and cancer, and there certainly seem to be fewer negative side-effects (according to experts), there is a growing body of research which shows there are potential health implications of vaping, so it can no longer be considered a totally risk-free alternative.
Who can help me stop smoking?
If you’d like support to quit smoking, there then are a number of organisations you can reach out to:
- The NHS has a network of free ‘stop smoking’ services – you can find your nearest one here, although it’s advised that you call before attending to check you’re eligible for their support.
- Helpful resources and further information are also available from public health charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health.
- Campaign group Smoke Free Action brings together 300 organisations to lobby the Government in order to reduce health inequalities and harm to children caused by tobacco.
- And you can also speak to your local GP or pharmacist if you’d like advice.
Please note, as with all of our health blogs, we’d recommend you to talk to a health professional before making any decisions which could impact your wellbeing.
For more of the latest information and research on health-related topics, do check back on our blog as we regularly share new posts on all things health and happiness 😊
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