“You see, E-cigs produce no smoke. The smoke is the problem with traditional tobacco cigs. It contains tar which results in lung cancer. E-cigs are really the safe way to go,” says Ron a 3-year tobacco smoker who turned to vaping in 2019 as a resolve to quitting cigarettes in 2020.
The end of last year took over smokers like a storm with the popularization of e-cigarettes. Now they are a trendy look and habit for the present 3 million tobacco smokers in Kenya and the rising number of vapours.
An e-cigarette, also known as e-cigs, or a vape pen is a digital pen-looking device through which people blow smoke. The pen contains a liquid which becomes vaporized as the smoker switches it on. The trend can be seen in the movies, streets or on social media.
“It looks cool and I can smoke it anywhere,” boasts Ron who has been hypnotized by the vape pen which does not require one to sit at those red facilities designed for Nairobi smokers in the CBD.
The first batch of e-cigs arrived in Kenya in 2003 but they were not welcomed with both hands. However, in recent years, they have become so popular reaching over 450 brands in the country. Top vendors in the business include Jaspers, Vape Duka and Vape Kenya.
Although there is less information regarding e-cigarette smoking, vendors admit to making 1000 shillings for a single flavour. “Business is booming!” exclaims one vendor who preferred to remain anonymous in the course of our interview.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs emit no smoke which is the leading reason as to why non-smokers take on the habit. Sheryl, a non-smoker talks about her vaping experience.
“At first, I was scared of indulging because am not a cigarette smoker. I honestly hate the smoke from a traditional cigarette especially when you meet someone smoking in the morning and they blow the smoke, I find that disgusting. Some friends introduced the pen to me. It was a different experience all the same and what can I say, I love it.”
Sheryl now vapes every time she goes to the club with her friends. She enjoys the feeling as it makes her sober up when she has been drinking too much. While she thinks she doesn’t have to worry about lung cancer, there are many health risks involved.
You Are Not Just Puffing A Harmless Pen
In Kenya, there is no clear policy to regulate or guide the use, sale and consumption of e-cigarettes.
A question still remains. With the rising popularity of e-cigarettes even without prior information, smokers remain in the dark about the impact that the vaping pen has on them.
E-cigarettes present a problem that is double-fold. On the one hand, there are the non-smokers who have taken on the habit. On the other, there are the traditional smokers who want to gradually reduce the tobacco intake.
Our respondents reveal that there is insufficient knowledge regarding e-cigarettes. They also seem to think that they are just puffing a harmless pen. Why? Because there is no smoke. E-cigarettes for many, have presented a harmless vaping habit. But what do the medics have to say?
“They are equally dangerous!” Exclaims Anne Odaro, a clinical physician with Anna Holistics.
The problem is that they haven’t been around long enough for us to study all the effects and that’s what young people do not yet understand.”
The physician explains that e-cigs contains nicotine which can impede brain development for adolescents as well as the fetus. They also contain other harmful substances, not just water and vapour. Some of these harmful substances include formaldehyde in the vapour which is a known carcinogen.
Anne also asserts that e-cigarettes lead to severe lung problems which are evident in developing countries that have embraced e-cigarette smoking. Currently, there are 25 countries that have criminalized both traditional smoking and vaping.
Compared to combustible cigarettes, vaping is deemed less harmful especially when people use them as a replacement. However, this is not always the case.
According to CDC 2019, nearly 200 e-cigarette users have developed severe lung disease in 22 states and the numbers keep rising. Most cases were among teens and young adults.
“The youth are the ones most affected and it leads to nicotine addiction. Most users will eventually start smoking regular cigarettes.”