Vaping, the jury's out on its long-term effects


For most smokers keen on quitting, the battle is ongoing. And while there is an array of tools, gadgets, nicotine patches, gum and self-help books out there to discourage smokers from lighting up, some still struggle.

However, many have given electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) a go and believe this is the panacea to giving up the real thing.

Vapers here in South Africa and abroad are spoilt for choice, with a reported 450 brands and more than 7 700 flavours to choose from. According to one report, vaping has soared, with 10% of US adults now using e-cigarettes. Undoubtedly, many of them are doing so in an effort to quit tobacco smoking.

Even children are getting in on the act and, according to the Washington Post, it is estimated that more than 13% of high school pupils and nearly 5% of middle school pupils also use e-cigarettes.

Vaping is marketed as a safer alternative to smoking and many people believe that it is harmless. However, you may be surprised to learn that a number of insurance companies still view vaping in the same light as they do smoking.

While insurers do not claim that vaping is as damaging as smoking traditional cigarettes, vapers will still be charged more.

City Press approached Discovery Life, BrightRock, Liberty, Standard Bank Insurance and brokerage Insurance Busters, all of which verified that if you have life cover, insurers put the same loading on to the premium as they would for a smoker, if you declare that you vape.

The same, but different

“The most recent information I got from insurers was that they still did not have sufficient proof that vaping does not have a similar effect as smoking on clients’ health. Therefore, most still view it as smoking,” explains Will Keevy, head of the insurance division of Insurance Busters.

Dr Maritha van der Walt, chief medical officer at Discovery Life, says: “From an underwriting and pricing perspective on life insurance, you are either a smoker or a nonsmoker. Using a vaporiser [that is, vaping] is certainly a higher risk than being a nonsmoker. Smokers are often dual users, meaning that they smoke and vape.

“There are challenges in being able to verify how much a person smokes; it is also not possible to distinguish on testing between vaping and smoking. Therefore, smokers and vapers are regarded as smokers, and it is unlikely that this underwriting practice will change soon.”

BrightRock’s underwriters also apply the smoker rates to users of e-cigarettes.

“To date, there has been no study to indicate any different outcome in using e-cigarettes or tobacco cigarettes when it comes to the increased risk associated with diseases related to smoking. In fact, some institutions view vaping as even more harmful than smoking, but this is still unconfirmed,” says a spokesperson from BrightRock.

Meanwhile, Standard Bank Insurance admits it does things slightly differently. It focuses on the consumption of nicotine, which, it says, is the component that has had a quantified effect on mortality.

“Clients who take up products that have this kind of underwriting are normally taken through the appropriate tests which determine if there is nicotine in their system,” says Felix Kagura, head of long-term insurance propositions at Standard Bank.

Unfortunately for vapers, a number of e-cigarette brands contain nicotine, but there are some reports claiming that certain brands do not. So, perhaps there may be some vapers who use nicotine-free brands that would go undetected by Standard Bank’s tests. Hence, they would not be deemed to be smokers by the bank’s underwriters.

Ultimately, the jury is still out on whether vaping is better than smoking. This is probably why insurers are hesitant about making a distinction between the two.

In a report released last year, titled Nicotine Without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction, the UK-based Royal College of Physicians says that although it is impossible to precisely quantify the long-term health risks associated with
e-cigarettes, the available data suggests that the risks are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure.

But many still insist that vaping is as bad as smoking.

Last year, a report in the UK’s Independent newspaper quoted researchers at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, which took place in Rome. They claimed that the average vaping session had a similar effect on the stiffness of the heart’s aorta (its main artery) as smoking a normal cigarette.

It’s best to declare that you vape

Should companies and academics eventually deduce that vaping is safe, or safer than smoking, they may offer premiums to smokers who have opted to vape.

But until then, it is best to declare to your insurer that you are a vaper if you use e-cigarettes.

If you do not declare it, your dread disease claim or your family’s claim on your life insurance policy may be repudiated.

It is important to read the fine print of your policies, and if you are unsure, find out if you are covered even if you vape.

“BrightRock upholds the right to apply loadings and deny the claims of policyholders who do not disclose any conditions, hobbies or habits that could affect their risk profiles,” warns the insurer.

And if you find that life cover has become unaffordable because of the extra you are paying in premiums, consider giving up smoking and vaping altogether.

“The best advice is not to smoke any substance and not to vape,” recommends Van der Walt.

Should you smoke cannabis instead?

There was much excitement following the recent Western Cape High Court ruling that deemed the prohibition of cannabis to be unconstitutional. But this does not mean you should ditch your e-cigarettes in favour of dagga – as insurers do not approve of it.

“BrightRock does not offer recreational drug users life cover. This extends to the use of dagga, and the policy will remain in place until this matter has been confirmed by Parliament,” says a spokesperson for the insurer.

“Dagga will have the same effect as smoking and could even lead to a client being declined cover if it is habitual, because of the view that it is an entry-level drug, even if legalised,” says Will Keevy, head of the insurance division of Insurance Busters.

Insurers say cannabis can be the gateway to other drugs and have undesirable side effects. Keevy warns: “There has been an increase in dread disease and death claims in younger clients which can relate back to drug use in their teens and student years. The fact is, drugs have a significant effect on one’s system, which only reveals itself in later life – for instance, the strain amphetamines have on the heart, which leads to heart attacks in people in their mid-thirties.”

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24


Read the digital editions of City Press here.
Read now
Voting Booth
The CCMA has ruled that the dismissal of an employee for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19 was fair. What are your thoughts?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
It is her right to refuse
20% - 9 votes
She is a risk to others
57% - 26 votes
Mandatory vaccination ?
11% - 5 votes
No to mandatory vaxxing
13% - 6 votes