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New data reveals a significant decline in number of smokers over last five years, while the daily number of cigarettes consumed has also fallen
Half of the 2.3 million people who were users of e-cigarettes said they were doing it to quit smoking. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
The number of smokers in Britain has reached its lowest point since records began in 1974, according to new data, while more than a million people say they are using e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that 17.2% of adults in the UK smoked in 2015, down from 20.1% in 2010.
Smoking levels are highest in Scotland, at 19.1%, followed by Northern Ireland, where it is 19%, Wales on 18.1% and England on 16.9%. The numbers have been dropping fastest in recent years in Scotland and Wales. Among local authorities, Blackpool is the only one to feature consistently in the 10 heaviest smoking areas between 2012 and 2015. In 2015, 25.3% of adults in Blackpool smoked.
The data also shows that 2.3 million people were e-cigarette users in England, Scotland and Wales in 2015, about 4% of the population. Their survey also shows that 4 million more people describe themselves as former e-cigarette users. A further 2.6 million say they have tried them but not gone on to use them regularly.
Half of the 2.3 million who were current users of e-cigarettes at the time of the survey said they were doing it to quit smoking. A further 22% said they were vaping because it was less harmful than smoking. Only 10% said they chose to vape because it was cheaper than buying cigarettes. Others – 9% – said they used e-cigarettes mainly because they were permitted indoors.
The figures will bolster the arguments of those who believe e-cigarettes have a major role to play in ending the tobacco epidemic. The issue has been hugely controversial among public health doctors and campaigners, some of whom consider e-cigarettes to be a stalking horse for the tobacco industry which hopes to make smoking acceptable again and has invested in vaping.
The World Health Organisation has expressed concern over e-cigarettes, but Public Health England has said vaping may be 95% safer than smoking tobacco.
Half of current smokers say they have tried e-cigarettes, and 14.4% of current smokers also vape.
Some of the statistics suggest that it is often the heavier smokers who turn to e-cigarettes. Those who also vape smoke marginally more cigarettes per day on average than those who do not – 11.8 versus 11.3. Smokers who have given up on e-cigarettes smoke 12.2 per day versus 10.6 among those who have never used an e-cigarette. Smokers who have children at home are also more inclined to use e-cigarettes.
The ONS vaping data is from the opinions and lifestyle survey 2014-15 and relate just to Great Britain. The ONS figures on general smoking trends include northern Ireland.
Men are more likely to smoke – 19.3% do, compared with 15.3% of women. Smoking is most common in the 25-34 age group, where 23% smoked in 2015. It is least common in the over-65s, among whom 8.8% smoke. But the biggest decline since 2010 has been among the 18-24 year-olds, where it has dropped five percentage points to 20.7% in five years.
Figures for Great Britain also show that smokers have been cutting back on the numbers of cigarettes they consume. Average consumption is down to 11.3 cigarettes per day, the lowest number since 1974.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH said: “The decline in smoking is very encouraging and shows that strong tobacco control measures are working. However, the government can’t leave it to individual smokers to try to quit on their own. If the downward trend is to continue we urgently need a new tobacco control plan for England, and proper funding for public health and for mass media campaigns. That’s essential if the prime minister is to live up to her promise to tackle health and social inequality.”
Electronic cigarettes are far safer and less toxic than smoking tobacco, a major new British study has found.
Scientists warned that nearly two thirds of smokers wrongly believe e-cigarettes are as dangerous as smoking.
And they blamed US campaigners for exaggerating the harms as part of a ‘moral crusade’ against the nicotine devices.
Researchers at University College London found people who switched from tobacco to ‘vaping’ gadgets saw the levels of cancer-causing toxins in their body drop by up to 97.5 per cent in six months.
Their study comes after another British experiment found that the devices cause just two genetic mutations in the lung – compared to 123 from tobacco.
A major new study found that e-cigarettes are far safer and less toxic than smoking tobacco
The new study, funded by Cancer Research UK, found people who continued to smoke as well as vape only saw toxic chemicals drop by 20 per cent, suggesting a complete switch is needed to reduce exposure.
Study leader Dr Lion Shahab, of UCL, said: ‘We’ve shown that the levels of toxic chemicals in the body from e-cigarettes are considerably lower than suggested in previous studies using simulated experiments.
‘Our results also suggest that while e-cigarettes are not only safer, the amount of nicotine they provide is not noticeably different to conventional cigarettes.
‘This can help people to stop smoking altogether by dealing with their cravings in a safer way.’
E-cigarettes contain a liquid form of nicotine that is heated into vapour to be inhaled, avoiding the harm caused by tobacco smoke.
Around 2.6 million adults in Britain have used e-cigarettes in the decade or so that they have been on the market.
Health experts agree that the devices are much safer than smoking tobacco – and the gadgets are thought to have helped 22,000 people quit smoking each year.
But many are concerned about unresolved safety concerns, and are especially worried about plans to allow the devices to be prescribed on the NHS.
Researchers found people who switched from tobacco to ‘vaping’ gadgets saw the levels of cancer-causing toxins in their body drop by up to 97.5 per cent in six months
Those fears have been flamed by a series of studies, mainly from the US, which warn of the potential damage of vaping on the heart and lungs.
But the UCL team, whose work is published in the respected Annals of Internal Medicine, said the papers which sparked these fears had been mostly based on small studies, on work on mice, or had compared e-cig users against people who had never smoked.
E-cigarettes are far less harmful than tobacco products, a study appeared to confirm yesterday.
While vaporizers are touted as ‘safe’, health experts warned we still don’t have enough evidence to say that for certain.
But a set of experiments performed in the UK showed lung tissue is barely affected at all by e-cigarettes – compared to the crippling affect cigarette smoke has one our organs.
Lungs exposed to tobacco suffered changes in 123 genes – mutating cells in a way that creates fertile ground for heart disease, inflammation, and even tumor growth.
Meanwhile just two genes were affected in lungs exposed to e-cigarette vapor.
The vast majority of e-cigarette users have previously been cigarette smokers, they said – and even if there are some small risks, they are significantly outweighed by the benefit of stopping smoking.
Dr Shahab: ‘Nothing is entirely safe. There is likely to be a residual risk of using e-cigarettes, certainly for cardiovascular diseases.
‘But looking at the long-term effects of nicotine replacement therapy these effects tend to be very small, and dramatically reduced compared to continuing with smoking.’
His team conducted the first ever study analysing the saliva and urine of long-term e-cigarette users, measuring their exposure to key chemicals.
They did the same tests on smokers and users of nicotine gum and patches.
Tracking 181 people for six months, they found e-cigarettes users had 97.5 per cent lower levels of a chemical called NNK than smokers, 97.1 per cent lower level of acrylonitrile and 89 per cent lower levels of butadiene.
Nicotine gum and patch users had similar reductions for each chemical, but the levels were not quite as low as for vapers.
Professor Robert West of UCL, senior author of the study, said it was ‘frustrating’ that research which highlighted the danger of e-cigarettes are given so much publicity.
The new study found people who continued to smoke as well as vape only saw toxic chemicals drop by 20 per cent
And he said part of the reason is that campaigners who in the past fought against the tobacco industry were now also campaigning against e-cigarette firms, many of which are owned by big tobacco firms.
Professor West said: ‘In the US, there is a section of the public health community for whom it is more of a moral crusade.
‘That moral crusade is tied up with fighting the tobacco industry – the side effect of that fight has spilled over into a more general ethical view about anything which isn’t the pure way of stopping smoking, which is just do it yourself and pull your socks up and be a hero.
‘There is a general sense that addiction is a bad thing, that nicotine addiction is a bad thing, that anything remotely connected with the tobacco industry is horrendous.’
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: ‘Around a third of tobacco-caused deaths are due to cancer, so we want to see many more of the UK’s 10million smokers break their addiction.
‘This study adds to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are a much safer alternative to tobacco, and suggests the long term effects of these products will be minimal.’
Electronic cigarette use has fallen for the first time among smokers, as a select committee has announced an inquiry into the devices.
Following studies linking e-cigarettes with cancer and infertility, the House of Commons science and technology committee will take evidence on how they affect human health.
MPs will look at how to tackle e-cigarette addiction and if their use should be restricted. They will also examine how well ‘vaping’ works to help people give up smoking, as research shows fewer people are using the devices to quit.
Following studies linking e-cigarettes with cancer and infertility, the House of Commons science and technology committee will take evidence on how they affect human health
Market analysts Mintel report that in the last two years the proportion of ex-smokers and current smokers using e-cigarettes has fallen from 69 per cent to 62 per cent.
The electronic cigarette industry, which tripled its value in 2013 as vaping took off, rose by just six per cent last year.
The Commons committee will look at e-cigarettes following years of arguments between scientists over the health risks of vaping.
The decision to launch an inquiry came after the Royal College of Physicians’ tobacco advisory group backed the the use of e-cigarettes in the UK to stop smoking, while the US Surgeon General warned they could prolong tobacco use by smokers and provide a ‘gateway’ to smoking regular cigarettes for young people.
The divide in opinion has seen a major British study published this month which found electronic cigarettes are far safer and less toxic than smoking tobacco, Meanwhile US studies have found they may cause damage to the heart and lungs.
Stephen Metcalfe, Conservative chair of the science and technology committee, said: ‘We will want to probe how well the science meshes with any Government action to encourage or discourage e-cigarette consumption.
‘An important role for the committee will be to identify any gaps in the evidence and whether it is right for the Government to take action while any key gaps remain.’
The use of electronic cigarettes has risen sharply in recent years and it is one of the subjects picked by the select committee following a Dragon’s Den-style appeal for proposals from the public.
The ‘My Science Inquiry’ project received 78 submissions, and will also look at algorithms, embryo research and hydrogen fuel cells.
Written evidence from Jack Neville, a member of the public who suggested electronic cigarettes, called for more scrutiny of the devices.
He said: ‘Right now anyone can sell them freely with little restriction or regard for people. People are under the impression that while cigarettes harm, vaping doesn’t because it’s not “toxic”.’
Having considered an e-cigarettes inquiry previously, the committee said now the ‘time is right’ to take them on.
MPs will look at how to tackle e-cigarette addiction and if their use should be restricted
The probe could also examine how the Government’s policy on e-cigarettes is influenced by the public finances and the implications of restricting or encouraging their use.
Mintel has only been recording their use for three years but found however that sales have tapered off, rising by only six per cent to £230 million last year.
However, roughly one in eight people still use one of the devices, most often during work breaks according to the firm, when stress is the trigger.
Electronic cigarettes remain the most popular way to give up smoking, with 62 per cent of quitters vaping compared to around one in seven using nicotine replacement gums and patches.
A spokesman for the UK Vaping Industry Association said: ‘In recent weeks we have had a leading long-term study from Cancer Research UK demonstrating that vaping is a vastly safer alternative to smoking. Yet we have also had contradictory information from studies conducted abroad, often based on dubious research.
‘This inquiry will be an excellent opportunity to robustly interrogate the science.’
Published on January 26th, 2016 | by Jimmy Hafrey
It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your heart. In fact, smokers are twice as likely to suffer heart attacks and they face increased risks for strokes and coronary heart disease.Research shows that smoking can actually damage the lining of your arteries, reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood, and force your heart to work harder just to maintain normal function. So what happens if you switch from smoking to vaping? According to the latest research, it can dramatically improve your cardiovascular health.
In a new study pioneered by Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, researchers recruited a group of smokers and offered them the chance to switch to vaping. Scientists monitored their progress for a full year. By the end of the study, some had completely quit smoking, others had reduced their cigarette use dramatically, and some had continued tobacco use with no major changes. Those who had completely switched to vaping or reduced their tobacco consumption by both smoking and vaping experienced major changes to their heart health.
Many of the smokers had worrisome hypertension at the beginning of the study. But after switching completely to vaping, there was an average decline in systolic blood pressure of 16.3 mm Hg. Those who were dual users (both vaping and smoking) also lowered their blood pressure by an average of 10.8 mm Hg.
Perhaps most interesting of all, the researchers found that those who quit smoking and vaping completely had no further decrease in their blood pressure than those who ditched cigarettes and substituted with vaping. Ultimately, just by trading tobacco cigs for vapor devices, participants were able to continue the experience of smoking while experiencing dramatic benefits to their cardiovascular health.
This study is significant because it contradicts several previous misconceptions about vaping. Many health advocates have claimed that when smokers switch the vaping, they still experience increased cardiovascular risk because they still use nicotine. This study proves that this simply isn’t true.
Furthermore, it shows that vaping is in fact a legitimate alternative to smoking and it allows tobacco users a reasonable way to successfully kick the habit and improve their health dramatically. The study also offers proof that dual use is not necessarily the end of the world. We’ve heard vapor critics argue that dual use will only increase nicotine consumption, thereby doing more harm than good. However, this new study shows that even when smokers manage to cut their tobacco consumption in half by vaping, they still experience significant drops in blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.
Ultimately, this new study gives us just one more look at the potential ways that vaping can change the world. If vaping can help current smokers reduce their risk for heart attack and stroke, why isn’t every doctor in the world recommending this alternative?
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If your New Year’s resolution was to stop smoking, and you were looking for support to help you quit, then recent headlines suggesting e-cigarettes ‘aren’t any safer than tobacco’ might have raised an eyebrow or two.
Since Christmas, we’ve seen three sets of critical headlines about e-cigarettes, each looking at a different aspect of a device now used by millions across the UK.
But how accurately do these stories reflect the scientific evidence? What do we really know about how safe e-cigarettes are? Can they really help you quit? And do candy flavours attract kids?
If you were to go on the media reports alone, you’d be forgiven for being alarmed.
But as is so often the case in the reporting of science and risk, taking a deeper look behind the headlines reveals a very different story.
The first study to make the headlines suggested that e-cigarettes were ‘as harmful as tobacco’. After studying cells in the lab, the researchers found some indications of increased levels of DNA damage and cell death in those treated with e-cigarette vapour.
This led one of the researchers to tell the media, “I believe [e-cigarettes] are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.” (More on this statement below).
The most important thing to remember here is that this was a study looking at the effect of chemicals on cells in a lab. Although this can be useful, it obviously can’t give a clear idea of what the impact would actually be in your body. So any claims of impact on health based only on lab studies will always be far-fetched.
The study also looked at an extremely high concentration of vapour. As the researchers admitted at the time, “it was similar to someone smoking continuously for hours on end, so it’s a higher amount than would normally be delivered.”
It boils down to this: the study showed that it might be worse for your cells to be exposed to e-cigarette vapour than the air in a lab. So e-cigarettes might not be 100 per cent harm free. Andprevious studies have shown there may be some dangerous chemicals present in vapour – so this isn’t a surprise. And there’s little in life that really is ‘safe’ – even drinking too much water can kill you.
But here’s the big caveat. The researchers also treated some cells with tobacco smoke. These died within 24 hours. Those treated with e-cigarette vapour were still alive to experiment on 8 weeks later.
So, contrary to the headlines, this study actually suggests that using e-cigarettes may be far less dangerous than smoking.
You’d never believe that from the headlines though.
Contrary to what was stated or implied in much of the news coverage resulting from this news release, the lab experiments did not find that e-cigarette vapor was as harmful to cells as cigarette smoke. In fact, one phase of the experiments, not addressed in the news release, found that cigarette smoke did in fact kill cells at a much faster rate. However, because similar cell-damage mechanisms were observed as the result of both e-vapor and regular cigarette smoke, Dr. Wang-Rodriguez asserts, based on the evidence from the study, that e-cigarettes are not necessarily a healthier alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. As stated in the journal paper and the news release, further research is needed to better understand the actual long-term health effects of e-cigarettes in humans.
But we’re concerned that, as far as public perception goes, the damage may already have been done.
So the scientific evidence on e-cigarette vapour to date suggests it’s far safer than tobacco smoke.
But can e-cigarettes actually help you quit?
Here we come across the second set of unfortunate stories, after a systematic evidence review and meta-analysis published last week claimed that those using e-cigarettes seemed to be less likely to quit smoking than those not using the devices.
But, again, there are a number of serious problems with the review.
Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are usually extremely useful, because they pull together all the evidence in one area, to paint a fuller picture than one study alone.
However the relationship between this picture and reality depends entirely on the quality and relevance of the original studies that are included. In this case, since there haven’t been many high-quality trials exploring whether e-cigarettes help people quit smoking, the researchers included a range of different types of studies.
The gold standard of evidence is the randomised control trial, which, in this case, would compare a group of smokers trying to quit using a nicotine-containing e-cigarette, to a similar group using nothing (or an e-cigarette without nicotine). But here’s the problem – there have only been two published studies like that.
A 2014 meta-analysis of these found people using nicotine via an e-cigarette were more likely to successfully quit than those using e-cigarettes without nicotine.
Last week’s review included both of these randomised trials alongside a range of other ‘real-world’ non-trial studies of e-cigarette use. This is a big problem. Whatever their strengths individually, these studies didn’t use consistent measurements – neither of e-cigarette use, nor of whether people had actually quit – so the studies aren’t necessarily comparable. And so including them together in a meta-analysis is questionable, at best.
Even so, when the analysis only included studies where people were actively trying to quit (as opposed to using e-cigarettes for other reasons) the results became inconclusive – people who said they’d ‘ever’ used an e-cigarette weren’t any more or less likely to succeed.
Furthermore, some of the studies included only looked at current smokers and asked about e-cigarette use. This would exclude anyone who had used an e-cigarette but successfully stopped smoking.
Quitting smoking can be incredibly hard. Someone trying an e-cigarette once probably wouldn’t have any better chance than if they hadn’t. Whatever support aid is used it would need to be as part of a concerted quit attempt and used enough to deliver sufficient nicotine to wean yourself off tobacco, and preferably alongside specialist support from a Stop Smoking Service to get the best possible chance of quitting.
E-cigarettes aren’t a magic bullet, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be a useful weapon in our arsenal against tobacco. The evidence for quitters using these products both within the Stop Smoking Services and without points towards this being the case in the UK.
Whether or not they’re ‘safe’, or help people quit, another big concern about e-cigarettes is that they could encourage children to start smoking – either by exposing them to nicotine (the ‘gateway’ argument) or by making smoking seem more normal again (the ‘renormalisation’ argument).
The first of these arguments isn’t supported by the evidence to date: surveys across the UK last year found that young people who hadn’t smoked weren’t using e-cigarettes.
But a small study published this week found young people rated printed adverts with flavoured e-cigarettes more appealing than those without flavours, leading to headlines suggesting children are being lured in with sweet flavours.
But when you dig into the detail, again it’s a more complex picture – the young people in this study, including those who saw the flavoured e-cigarette adverts, had negative views about e-cigarettes, and said they didn’t intend to buy them. And, perhaps more importantly, it didn’t find any evidence that e-cigarette adverts increase the appeal of regular cigarettes.
There are now measures in place to protect young people (e-cigarettes cannot be sold to under 18s, and further legislation heavily restricting advertising will come into force in May) but it’s still important to continue looking at how e-cigarette adverts might appeal to children, and to track use of both e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes to make sure there isn’t a negative impact from these products.
However, Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling (and our Cancer Prevention Champion), said the study “should provide some reassurance to those who say that e-cigarette advertising will result in a new generation of tobacco smokers.”
When you look at the bigger picture, rather than the headlines, the evidence so far actually points towards a positive role for e-cigarettes in helping combat the biggest preventable cause of cancer. However none of the questions posed here – on safety, effectiveness and impact on children – have full answers.
As we’ve said before we need years of good quality science before we can definitively answer these questions, and at Cancer Research UK we are working towards that. But for now the evidence we have suggests e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking tobacco, they might help you quit and non-smoking children aren’t being lured into using them regularly.
While the evidence on e-cigarettes continues to accumulate, and the media controversy rages on, if you’re looking for evidence-based inspiration to quit smoking in 2016, speak to your GP or localStop Smoking Service, or check out our website… but maybe keep reading the headlines with an appropriate dose of scepticism.
Nikki Smith is a senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK
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