BBC Horizon’s “E-Cigarettes: Miracle or Menace?” – Truth or Treachery?

Monday, 23 May 2016

Last Sunday’s Horizon on BBC Two focused on e-cigarettes, so it's time to check out if this episode got its facts right amid the lies and stigma surrounding vaping. 

During the programme, presenter Michael Mosley took up vaping for a month having never smoked a day in his life. This isn’t advisable, but then again the man has already swallowed a tapeworm and done the 5:2 diet, so we’re not going to judge him.

Mosley talked to the experts about vaping and the results were surprising. Most experts he spoke to agreed that e-cigarettes were much less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and even he wasn’t concerned by the short term effects of vaping. 

Nicotine Addiction?

His biggest concern was becoming addicted to nicotine, however this turned out to not happen. He instead found that having to puff on the e-cigarette so regularly soon became a chore to him. What’s more, his children were unimpressed and had no intention of copying him, thinking that it wasn’t cool.

In fact, new research seemed to indicate that nicotine alone is not as addictive as we once thought, and it is potentially the combination of nicotine and other chemicals present in cigarettes that causes the addiction.

Vaping on the Horizon

Nicotine can even have its benefits in some cases – a study in the US has recently been funded to explore the potential benefits of nicotine on patients with mild cognitive impairment (an Alzheimer’s precursor). They’ll be given regular nicotine patches or a placebo patch and will receive health checks and cognition tests to see if nicotine can help their memory.

What About Smokers?

The programme also followed regular smokers as they tried to kick the habit. The smokers tried a range of techniques designed to help quit smoking – chewing nicotine gum, wearing nicotine patches – as well as e-cigarettes and even trying to go cold turkey.

The results clearly showed that e-cigarettes do have a part to play in helping people quit smoking, even if manufacturers and retailers can’t fully say it yet due to the obvious regulation around smoking cessation equipment. During the study, e-cigarettes were much more effective in helping people to quit smoking than going cold turkey.

So It’s Totally Safe?

Well, not entirely. The show also covered the other side of the equation. At the end of his month of heavy vaping, Mosley showed signs of increased inflammation in his lungs. While this rapidly reversed when he stopped vaping, it does show that vaping isn’t without its risks.

Even with the potential risks, Mosley came out fully in support of vaping as a smoking alternative, both for the health benefits and its potential use as a smoking cessation tool.