Ex-smoker says vaping 'saved his life'
Vaping has become a hot health topic in Australia, with at least 240,000 people in the country believed to be using e-cigarettes.
Paul Blamire switched to vaping after smoking cigarettes for 30 years.
"I'd roll a cigarette in bed before I'd even get up, start smoking, and then get on with my day," he told A Current Affair.
At the end, he said, he was smoking up to 60 cigarettes a day.
But four years ago, he got a frightening wake-up call.
"Both lungs were affected with emphysema, left lung was stage two, early stage three emphysema," he said.
Now, the 50-year-old's vaping passion is now a full-time job, as he mixes flavoured e-liquids for companies around the world.
He says his health has improved drastically – and he credits vaping with saving his life.
Terry Slevin from the Public Health Association of Australia isn't so convinced of the benefits of e-cigarettes.
"The only things that we should inhale into our lungs is clean air," he said.
"We shouldn't be inhaling tobacco smoke, certainly, but we also shouldn't be inhaling this cornucopia of chemicals that make up vaping vials."
Vaporisers, vapes, or e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid - usually containing nicotine - into an aerosol for inhaling.
They've become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional cigarettes, because they're considered safer and cleaner.
However, vaping nicotine is illegal in Australia without a prescription.
"Let's not assume that these things are safe until we're sure it's proven," Mr Slevin said.
The vaping industry was estimated to be worth $16 billion globally in 2018, and even Big Tobacco is cashing in.
In the past decade, Phillip Morris International has spent close to $9 billion developing smoke-free products.
Public health advocate Dr John Cunningham believes the e-cigarette industry is aggressively targeting teenagers.
"Ninety-five per cent of smokers get their nicotine addiction before the age of 24, and that's why the tobacco companies desperately want people to take up vaping," he said.
However, Colin Mendolson from the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA) denies there's a teen vaping epidemic in the US.
"There are currently 50 million vapers in the world," he said.
"There have been no reports of serious harm from vaping, not one death in that time."
He claimed deaths linked to vaping were not related to nicotine vaping.
"What they've found now in the US is that these people have purchased illicit, contaminated THC or cannabis from street dealers," he said.
However, that finding has not been confirmed.
ATHRA is a non-profit organisation which claims to be independent.
However, in 2018, it took $17,500 from vaping companies - representing 89 per cent of its funding for the year.
"The fact is that to set up a charity is very expensive," Mr Mendolson said.
"We spent about $60,000, we felt it was worth taking that risk to set up a charity to help save lives, and yes, people will make that connection."
The USA's Food and Drug Administration is still investigating e-cigarettes, but its advice in the meantime is to stop smoking cigarettes.
"Look past the spin and look past the deception, and make your choices based on good evidence, not the marketing spin from these companies," Dr Cunningham said.
Vaping products are stocked in convenience stores around the country, while nicotine cartridges can be ordered from the US and shipped to Australia in days.
Amid a spate of vaping-related deaths, US President Donald Trump has moved to ban flavoured e-cigarettes in the US.
However, there's a push to make them legal in Australia, where there have been no deaths linked to vaping - though supporters will have a fight on their hands.
"I certainly wouldn't want to be the one that opened the floodgates to a whole new generation of nicotine addicts," Dr Cunningham said.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019