Electronic cigarettes aren’t the first product that’s promised to replace smoking. If you go to your GP or an NHS stop smoking service they’re still going to offer you nicotine replacement therapies – patches, gum or inhalators. Many people have used normal chewing gum as a quit aid. Others chew toothpicks or carry something they can fiddle with to keep their hands busy. So vapour products are just the latest in a long line of cigarette substitutes – but the way smokers have responded has been completely different. What makes vaping special?

Obviously there’s something happening. In 2009 just 0.6% of smokers who tried to quit used an e-cig in their attempt. By late 2016 that had shot up to 40.6% and is still rising. Sixty-five percent of British smokers who quit in the last year now vape instead.

It’s not just nicotine

If smoking was just about getting a dose of nicotine, patches wouldn’t have a 93% failure rate. In fact the rituals and actions associated with it are important too, such as the hand to mouth routine and the action of inhaling. Patches and gum don’t provide these; inhalators try, but the inhale is unsatisfying.

E-cigarettes are different. They closely mimic the actions of smoking, so it’s much easier to move from one to the other. If you swap your cigarettes for an e-cig you won’t find yourself fidgeting because you don’t have anything to do with your hands. You won’t miss the sensation of inhaling. In fact you get to keep doing all the things you did as a smoker, except for cleaning ashtrays and desperately trying to spark one last flame from a dead lighter.

Making quitting fun

Of course, vaping has another big advantage over traditional stop-smoking methods. Health campaigners like to say that two-thirds of smokers want to quit. That’s probably what they say if they’re asked by their doctor, but when the question isn’t loaded with disapproval they tend to give a very different answer. In fact, most smokers say they enjoy itIt’s never easy to give up something you enjoy; you feel that, suddenly, you’re missing out.

If you switch to vaping you can avoid that feeling of loss. With the right gear and liquid vaping is a lot more enjoyable than smoking, as well as being cheaper and eliminating almost all the health risk. For many people vaping turns into much more than a replacement for cigarettes; it becomes a hobby, or even part of their identity. Vapers are a community, a subculture. They’re enthusiastic about it. Nobody is setting up forums to talk about how great the latest nicotine gum is. There are no patch meets.

It’s much easier to do something if it feels like it’s making your life better. Obviously quitting smoking does make your life better, but it doesn’t feel that way if you enjoy your cigarettes and miss them when they’re gone. With vaping you don’t have to miss them, because e-cigarettes do the same job and do it better. That’s what makes them different from every previous quit aid, and it’s why they work so well.


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