While the debate rages on whether or not vaping is “healthier” than smoking – and what implications the activity has for one’s health – insurance experts say that, when it comes to health risk profiles, they’re treated exactly the same.
According to Motshabi Nomvethe from professional insurance and healthcare service provider PPS, while smokers have long been rated as higher risk when it comes to health and life insurance, people who vape are now also considered candidates with a higher risk, as they are more likely to be subjected to increased medical costs throughout their lifespan.
“At PPS, a member is regarded as a smoker if any nicotine delivery device has been used within the past 12 months, regardless of the frequency of use. This includes e-cigarettes, vaping devices, hookah pipes, and cigars,” she said.
“These members will pay premium rates according to their smoking status, which will be in line with the underwritten risk. Should a member have stopped smoking for a minimum of 12 months, they must inform their insurance provider as they may qualify for a lower premium.”
Nomvethe said that the exact long-term lung effects of vaping will still take decades to develop. However, based on experience with cigarettes, similar adverse health effects, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and cancer, can be expected.
“The bottom line is that the safest option is to avoid both vaping and smoking altogether,” she said.
The rise of vaping
Most commonly referred to as vapes, e-cigarettes and similar devices have grown in popularity in South Africa, particularly among the youth. Studies conducted in the past year revealed that more than a quarter of Grade 12 pupils at wealthier South African high schools are vaping, with almost a quarter of those reporting that they cannot get through the school day without using a vaping device.
Vaping devices comprise a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid. Some look similar to regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, while others resemble pens or USB sticks.
Vapes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavourings, and other chemicals. Users inhale this aerosol into their lungs, and bystanders can also breathe it in when it is exhaled into the air.
According to PPS, the rise in vaping over the last few years has been welcomed by some as a “healthier” alternative to cigarette smoking, especially for those trying to stop smoking.
This is the message that has been pushed by many proponents within the vaping sector who have gone to great lengths to try and distance vaping from cigarette smoking, even going as far as claiming that “vaping saves lives” by helping cigarette smokers quit.
However, PPS said that, while it is unknown just how many chemicals e-cigarettes contain (compared to the over 7,000 chemicals known in cigarettes), electronic vape devices still contain nicotine – which is a toxic and highly addictive substance that raises blood pressure, spikes adrenaline, and can increases the heart rate and the likelihood of a heart attack.
“While the short and long-term effects of vaping are largely unknown, some reports suggest that vaping may be as harmful as cigarette smoking. Studies have shown that vaping has been found to cause similar effects as smoking on lung and cardiovascular function,” the group said.
“What has been brought into the spotlight of late is the fact that many people who would not otherwise have taken up smoking cigarettes are taking up vaping, a trend that is especially concerning amongst the youth.”
With the rise in vaping in South Africa, local legislation is being tabled to deter people, especially children and youth, from smoking and to update the rules developed three decades ago, which will see the regulations affecting traditional tobacco products extend to vapes and e-cigarettes too.
The new smoking and vaping laws are currently being subject to public consultation, which has drawn a divided response. However, while certain aspects of the regulations – relating to the banning of display and packaging of tobacco products – are being questioned, the move to regulate and better control the vaping industry has been largely welcomed by the public.