Are you hoping to quit smoking but just can’t kick the habit? Are you considering using e-cigarettes as an alternative? In this guide, we’re going to be looking at why it is so difficult to quit smoking and whether or not e-cigarettes are a good way to quit a smoking addiction.
Why is Quitting Smoking So Difficult?
Despite smoking being the largest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for nearly almost 80,000 deaths every year, there are almost 7 million smokers in the UK. According to GOV.UK, around 60% (4.1M) of smokers wanted to quit in 2019 but only 10% of those actually succeeded within 3 months. So why is it so hard to give it up?
Smoking can be very difficult to quit due to it being both a physical dependence and psychological addiction.
A physical dependence on smoking tobacco is caused by the main ingredient called nicotine. Consuming nicotine through smoking leads to the release of dopamine or ‘the feel good’ hormone in the brain which causes temporary pleasurable feelings, including stress relief.
Over time, the body becomes more tolerant which disrupts the brain’s chemical balance and means an individual will need more nicotine in order to experience the same pleasurable feelings. Due to the chemical imbalance, the brain also stops producing as much dopamine on its own and begins to rely on nicotine in order to feel good again. This often leads to people smoking more frequently.
When an individual then attempts to quit, they will likely experience very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms which include both physical and psychological effects:
Physical Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms
- Loss of appetite
- Nicotine cravings
- Headaches and dizziness
Psychological Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms
- Difficulty focusing
With a physical dependence often comes a psychological addiction. Individuals often use smoking as a coping method to replace feelings of anxiety, depression and relieve stress. This is of course a quick fix and doesn’t solve difficult issues occuring in an individual’s or long term mental health problems and can often exacerbate them temporarily during withdrawal.
Are E-Cigarettes a Good Way to Quit a Smoking Addiction?
E-cigarettes, also known as vapes or e-cigs, have become more and more popular over the last decade, with the proportion of people using e-cigs who are ex-smokers continuing to grow, reaching 54.1% in 2019. According to ASH, the main reason given for using e-cigarettes was to help them quit (31%) followed by helping to prevent relapse back to smoking (20%).
What Are E-Cigarettes and How Do They Work?
E-cigarettes are small devices that allow you to inhale nicotine in a vapour instead of smoking. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigs don’t burn tobacco and do not produce tar or carbon monoxide which are the two most damaging factors of tobacco smoke.
They work by heating up e-liquid that usually contains nicotine (though can can purchase nicotine-free e-liquids), propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine as well as flavourings to make it more pleasant.
But Are They Actually a Good Way to Quit?
According to the NHS, many thousands of people in the UK have managed to quit smoking with the help of an e-cigarette. This is because they can help you manage your nicotine cravings when you select the right strength of nicotine e-liquid.
In 2019, a major UK clinical trial found that those who combined using e-cigarettes with expert face-to-face support were twice as likely to successfully quit smoking as individuals who used other nicotine replacement products like patches or chewing gum.
Getting professional help from your local stop smoking services provides you with the best chance of successfully quitting smoking for good.
How Safe are E-Cigarettes?
Whilst e-cigarettes have been found to be a healthier alternative to smoking, they aren’t entirely risk free. As mentioned earlier, they don’t produce tar or carbon monoxide unlike smoking, however, a 2018 study of e-cigarette smokers’ urine found at least five of the same carcinogens found in cigarettes.
It’s also worth mentioning that one of the main ingredients of e-liquid is propylene glycol, which is also found in fog machines used at concerts and has been linked to chronic lung problems. People who use e-cigarettes have been found to have an increased risk for developing asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) following a 2016 study.
Is Vaping Cheaper than Smoking?
Yes, vaping is much cheaper than smoking. An individual who smokes 20 cigarettes a day will spend up to £10.60 a day on average, meaning they are spending roughly £3,869 on their habit each year. When you make the switch to vaping, the average annual cost (based on higher strength e-liquid, starter kits, 10 bottles of e-liquid per month, plus accessories) is £633.60.
Why Some People Prefer Vaping Over Smoking
Vaping offers a number of advantages over smoking. Here are some of the most common reasons people prefer vaping to smoking:
- Vaping is better for your health than smoking
- It is cheaper to vape than smoke
- Second-hand vapour is safer than second-hand smoke
- Vapour doesn’t linger like cigarette smoke and many would say the odour is more pleasant
- There are more flavours of e-liquid than tobacco
Can I Get an E-Cigarette from My GP?
No, e-cigarettes are not currently available from the NHS on prescription, so you can’t get one from your GP, however, you can purchase them from specialist vape shops and other retailers or online.
For more information and advice on using e-cigarettes to help quit smoking, you can visit the NHS site Better Health or download the NHS Smokefree app. For more advice on addiction and recovery, take a look at our other helpful resources.