Vaping in Egypt: A viable alternative for smokers?

Mahmoud Aziz , Sunday 24 Dec 2017

Vaping products at smoking store (Photo: e-smoking developers)

Whether at your work place, on the street or even on public transportation, you have likely seen somebody inhaling vapour through this sleek digital box with pleasant-smelling flavoured clouds.

Given that the trend has been around for almost a decade now, the fact that “vaping” is attracting a large sector of Egyptian smokers – whether for health, financial reasons or as a trend – is indisputable.

Nowadays, by just flipping through social media platforms you can easily spot dozens of pages where users exchange information on vaping and trade their products.

'Electronic Smoking Developers' is one page on Facebook that currently has 74,000 members. The page’s administrators say that there are hundreds of thousands vapers in Egypt.

The group organises outings that gather new as well as experienced vapers in public parks to puff their flavoured vapes and exchange their vaping expertise.

One of the group's main goals is to promote the new vaping trend as the “most successful” healthy and financially feasible alternative to smoking, which many of its members say has remarkably improved their general health and controlled their smoking expenses.

"Nearly 80 percent of people on our page who started vaping have completely quit smoking [tobacco]," says Hossam Hegazi, one of the page’s founders.

Many in Egypt are starting to consider vaping as a cheaper alternative to smoking.

"I have not quit smoking yet or started vaping, but the prospect of saving EGP 25,000 per year is quite appealing," says Mahmoud Kamel, who is thinking about starting vaping as a pure financial choice after doing simple calculations.

"When I first started in 2005, the brand of cigarettes I smoke cost EGP 7 per pack, now the same brand costs EGP 35. I am now thinking about vaping as an alternative to either reduce smoking or quit entirely," Kamel adds.

For Kamel, who has been consuming two packs of cigarettes a day for years, partially or entirely relying on the vape can be a less costly choice than paying EGP 70 a day for cigarettes.

'Vaping did the job' 

Khaled Mohamed, a salesman who smokes one pack worth EGP 25 a day, says the same amount of vaping consumption costs him just EGP 3 per day.

“Considering my daily rate of smoking, in terms of finances, vaping certainly did the job for me,” says Khaled, who has been vaping for a year-and-a-half now.

However, the Electronic Smoking Developer’s founders advise anyone thinking about entering the world of vaping to look into scientific research and seek accurate information about vaping products before deciding on what best suits them in terms of health or cost control.

Experienced vapers also say that there is no way to calculate whether vaping would be a cheaper alternative because it all depends on the rate of consumption and the prices of the products one uses, which can vary widely. 

Dating all the way back to 1963, the electronic or digital cigarette was first patented by a man named Herbert A. Gilbert, who described his device as "a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette that could provide a safe and harmless gateway for smoking by replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist and flavoured air."

Although the technology has greatly advanced since then, the idea is the same; a smoke-like vapour that can be inhaled and provides a bypass for nicotine delivery into the bloodstream via the lungs.

Back when it was introduced commercially in 2003, E-Cigarette products were sold as a replacement for smoking and were mainly considered as a tobacco harm reduction (THR) product.

The most common type of vape among Egyptians is one that comes with a relatively bulky machine called a “mod.”

A mod is simply a mechanical device that does not contain any circuitry or electronic components. When the trigger of a mod is pressed, it makes a connection between the battery and the atomiser coil, causing it to heat up.

For this process to be successful, one will need vaping “juice” in the mod's tank, which is what creates the vapour when exhaling.

The type of juice, or liquid flavour, can vary immensely, with some containing no nicotine and others having an amount of nicotine measured by milligrams per millilitre of liquid.

Increasing number of customers 

At one of the many smoking stores in Cairo, many brand new vaping mods stand on shelves with different types and specifications.

“The vaping business was introduced in Egypt individually and on a relatively narrow scale in 2007, but we did not expect that vape products sales would reach this level over the past two years. At some points, we could not sustain the level of supply due to the increasing number of customers," explains Ahmed Salem, who works at the store.

“Initially, choosing to vape could be a costly decision for some people, as they need between EGP 1,500 and 3,500 to buy a vape, depending on its brand, durability and specs,” he adds.

An essential part of the vape machine is the heating coil, which must be replaced periodically depending on usage, averaging between two weeks and one month. Coil prices range from EGP 12 to 100, according to the type of vape.

The price of imported and locally made vape liquid ranges between EGP 50 and 200, but one should make sure of its source to ensure its safety.

Although the vape is officially banned in Egypt, there are vape shops in the country that sell the product and its accessories, which are often illegally smuggled into the country.

The government has banned the product on the grounds that it may have adverse effects on health.

Vape traders, however, say that the real reason behind the ban is that vaping presents an alternative that can highly reduce the sale of tobacco products, which brings in billions in taxes every year.

The prices of cigarettes and tobacco products have been increasing significantly in Egypt during recent years due to periodic increases in taxes.

In the early 2000s, one pack of the country’s most popular brand of cigarettes, Cleopatra, was sold for EGP 3, now the pack is sold for EGP 11 to 15.

The latest increase, which was approved by parliament last month, hiked prices of local and imported cigarettes.

In the fiscal year 2016/17, the Ministry of Finance said that tax revenues from cigarettes and tobacco sales reached EGP 40 billion.

Healthier alternative 

Aside from the financial benefit, smokers may also consider switching to vapes for health reasons. Vape companies have been promoting their products as a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco.

While the dangers of smoking tobacco are broad and have been researched extensively for decades, the health consequences of vaping are not as clear.

Opponents of vaping maintain, however, that the product uses chemicals that can cause cancer.

In 2015, Egypt's Ministry of Health issued a ban on the sale and distribution of electronic smoking products in accordance with a decision by the Technical Committee for Drug Control, due to the lack of sufficient clinical studies to prove the safety of electronic cigarettes and for containing toxic substances such as Nitrosamine & Diethylene Glycol.

There is currently a lack of sufficient studies on the effects of e-smoking versus regular smoking, as the trend is relatively new and the potential health consequences are a matter of ongoing debate.

However, one study conducted by Britain’s Department of Health suggests that electronic smoking eliminates 95 percent of the dangers of regular smoking.

The number of smokers in Britain has reached its lowest point since the country starting keeping records in 1974, with more than one million people saying that they are using e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, The Guardian reported in 2017.

The UK is one of the most e-smoking-tolerant countries, where vaping is unrestricted by medical and tobacco control legislation.

In the USA, a report released in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 3.7 percent of American adults use electronic cigarettes or vapour products on a regular basis. That figure represents more than 9 million adult consumers, according to the US Census Bureau.

“E-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products,” says the CDC report.

The report adds, however, that while e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit some people, they can harm others, and that “scientists still have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking.”

As a result of this uncertainty and lack of studies, the legal status of vaping differs from one country to another, from completely or partially legalised to totally banned, though more and more countries are choosing to legalise and regulate the product.

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