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If you’re a smoker, you’ve probably heard all the facts before – smoke (first- or second-hand) kills around 5,000 people in New Zealand every year. It’s the number one cause of preventable deaths. 


Researchers estimate that two-thirds of all people who smoke will be killed by tobacco, and those who smoke long-term will die 10-15 years earlier. The only way to reclaim your health and your life is to quit smoking entirely.


In this article, we take a look at the health benefits of quitting smoking and how vaping can help you achieve your goal.



The immediate health benefits of quitting smoking


According to the Cancer Society of New Zealand, when you quit smoking, you’ll notice immediate benefits to your physical and mental health.


  • 20 minutes after quitting your blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature in your hands and feet start returning to normal levels.

  • Carbon monoxide and nicotine levels in your bloodstream halve in just 8 hours.

  • After a day, the carbon monoxide is completely gone from your system.

  • After 2 days, nicotine is gone and you’ll notice your sense of taste and smell heightening.

  • After 3 days, your breathing becomes easier as your lungs work to remove mucus and debris.

  • Your general fitness and lung capacity will improve after a couple of weeks.

  • If you have children, you dramatically decrease their risk of cot death, asthma, ear infections, coughs, colds, and learning and development problems. 

Long-term health benefits of quitting smoking


As well as all these immediate health benefits when you quit smoking you also set your body up for longevity and a better quality of life.


  • Your lung function can improve by up to 10% over the next 3-6 months, and you’ll find it increasingly easy to breathe and conduct simple activities without coughing or wheezing.

  • After a year, your risk of heart attack falls to half that of a smoker.

  • Your risk of developing cancer of the mouth or oesophagus falls to half of a smoker’s after five years.

  • After ten years, your risk of lung cancer drops to half of a smoker.

  • By the time you’ve been smokefree for ten years, your heart attack risk is at the same level as someone who has never smoked.


There are so many reasons to quit smoking – to improve your health, improve your mental well-being, save money (someone smoking a pack a day will spend over $10,700 a year on cigarettes!) make sure you’re there for your family, and extend your life.

Smoking and mental health


Smoking becomes complicated when it’s linked to mental health. Many people start smoking because they find it helps them cope with anxiety or depression. However, over the long term, it can make these issues worse. When trying to quit, mental health problems can make the process more difficult – stopping smoking can make anxiety or depression worse.


It’s important to note that more research is emerging showing a link between smoking and poor mental health. In 2016, the NZ Herald reported on a link between smoking and memory loss.


Some smokers report feeling more alert – and this may be linked to studies showing nicotine can improve concentration. However, nicotine is just one of over 4,000 chemicals in a cigarette, and those chemicals build up in the body to cause long-term physical and mental damage. 


Long-term smoking has been linked to a reduction in prospective memory (everyday tasks like remembering to take medication or go to a meeting) and executive function (planning tasks, ignoring distractions and paying attention for long periods). These same memory issues also affect those exposed to second-hand smoke at the same rate.


A recent study has shown that using e-cigarettes over smoking can help improve prospective memory, but we don’t yet have the data to consider long-term effects. 


How vaping can help you quit smoking


If the health risks associated with smoking scare you and you’re ready to quit, you face a number of options. 


You can quit cold-turkey, but simply refusing to have any cigarettes or other nicotine products until your body has beaten the addiction. Around 90% of all smokers try to quit cold-turkey, but it’s one of the least successful methods – only around 5-7% manage to quit. 


Your body is physically and psychologically addicted to the nicotine hit. Because of this, people trying to quit will try to address that addiction directly via:


  • Behavioural therapy: Working with a therapist to uncover the triggers that cause you to want to light up and finding a way of managing them.

  • Nicotine replacement therapy: Using gum, patches, inhalers, sprays, lozenges, and vaping containing nicotine. These products give you the nicotine hit your body craves without the harmful chemicals associated with burning a cigarette.

  • Medication: There are prescription medications available that help you with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting.

  • Hypnosis and acupuncture: Some people find these methods help them quit.

  • Combination treatments: The most effective way to quit smoking is by employing a combination of treatments that tackle what’s most difficult for you – for example, by using nicotine replacement therapy while also seeing a counselor. Along with support from friends and family, a combination of treatments is usually the most effective.


Vaping is a form of nicotine replacement therapy using e-cigarettes. An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that heats a liquid into a vapor that you – the user – inhaled into your lungs and exhales again. Many (although by no means all) e-cigarette liquids contain an amount of nicotine. Vape liquids can also contain flavourings.


Cigarettes contain over 7000 chemicals that can be extremely harmful to the body when burned and inhaled. By vaping, a user can get the ‘hit’ of nicotine without inhaling these other chemicals. Because vaping also mimics the action of smoking a cigarette (e-cigarettes are designed to be the same size/shape as a normal cigarette) and you see clouds of vapor instead of smoke, many smokers find the process of vaping more satisfying than wearing a patch or chewing gum.


A recent study tested vaping against other forms of nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches and gum. Researchers divided their sample group of 900 smokers into two halves – one half were given e-cigarettes, and the other half a range of nicotine replacement products. After a year, the group studied the rates of smoking cessation and found that 18% of the vapers had quit smoking as opposed to only 10% of those on other nicotine replacement products.


Quitline has this to say about vaping:

  • Vaping is not harmless, but it’s much less harmful than smoking.

  • Nicotine is highly addictive and it’s the reason people struggle to quit smoking.

  • Vaping is less harmful to those around you than smoking – while second-hand smoke is proven to be dangerous, there’s no current research suggesting second-hand vapour is dangerous.

  • Those vaping to quit smoking should be sure to choose quality products from reputable sources. Ask for advice and support.

  • Many people find vaping helpful because the action mimics smoking a cigarette.

  • Anyone using vaping to quit smoking can access support via Quitline.


Although there isn’t as much research on vaping as there is on cigarettes and other quitting methods, preliminary research points toward vaping being a useful tool in fighting the health effects of cigarettes. A recent paper by the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that the public health benefits of vaping far outweigh any risks. The paper looked at several simulations and found that in the most likely scenario, promoting vaping as a way to could save nearly 3.3 million life-years by the year 2070.


If you’re struggling to quit smoking, vaping might offer you positive results.

The health effects of vaping


Is vaping a perfect solution to help everyone quit smoking? Of course not. Every person is different and will have to figure out what works best for them and their health.


While most health professionals now agree that in general vaping is safer than cigarettes, there are still cases of vaping causing mouth and throat irritation, nausea, and coughing in some users. Effects of long-term vaping haven’t been well-documented as it only began as a trend in the early 2000s.


A significant positive health impact of vaping is that’s shown to do no harm to those around you. Second-hand smoke has been linked to respiratory infections, asthma, bacterial meningitis and cot death in children, and exposure to it increases a person’s risk of cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and stroke. Vaping drops this risk factor to 0.


One thing to consider is that for some users, vaping is simply replacing one nicotine source with another. The same study above that found those vaping were almost twice as likely to quit smoking after a year as other nicotine replacement therapies also concluded that among successful quitters, 80% were still vaping, compared with just 9% still using nicotine-replacement products. This study did not mention whether those still vaping were still using nicotine-based e-liquids or not. However, it’s clear that some smokers turn into long-term vapers, and the potential risks associated with that – while clearly significantly less than cigarettes – are currently unknown.


Vaping vs smoking – at a glance


We’ve created this simple table to help you compare vaping and smoking



Smoking

Vaping

Contains over 4,000 chemicals, including nicotine, butane, methanol, arsenic, acetic acid, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and cadmium, all of which are highly toxic.

Contains around four ingredients, including propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, non-oil food-grade colourings (in high quality vape juice), and nicotine. 

The toxins produced by burning cigarettes are extremely harmful to your health.

Not completely harmless, but significantly less harmful than smoking.

A pack of cigarettes per day can cost you around $10,700 per year.

After an initial setup cost ($100-200 for quality gear), vaping costs an average $1000 per year. 

The amount of nicotine in a cigarette is fixed. Each one will have the same.

Different e-juices contain different levels of nicotine, enabling you to control your own intake and decrease over time.



Vaping in the media


Despite the health benefits and proven usefulness in helping people quit smoking, the media and health authorities often like to demonise vaping. There are legitimate concerns - such as vaping products being marketed to kids and teens – but these are often mixed in with untruths and wild accusations.


But things are changing. More health professionals like the University of Michigan teams are demonstrating how vaping can be used to help individuals quit smoking. 


In 2011, the NZ Government set a goal for Smokefree 2025. They are working to achieve this by protecting children from exposure to tobacco marketing, reducing both the supply and the demand for tobacco, and providing the best support for quitting. Several legislative initiatives have been implemented with this goal in mind, including restricting smoking in bars, clubs, and restaurants, tightening workplace requirements around smoking areas, and prohibiting smoking in vehicles carrying children. 


As part of these initiatives, organisations actively involved in promoting smoking prevention and quitting are now required to support smokers who wish to use vaping to help quit. This includes providing information about vaping as an alternative method for quitting. This is positive and we hope to see more information out there in future!


As a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking. Using vaping as part of your quit-smoking efforts can not only help you to stay off the cigarettes, but it offers significant health benefits when compared with smoking. Are you ready to give vaping a try today?