Scientists are of the opinion that the deaths due to smoking-related diseases could be drastically reduced if all smokers opted for electronic cigarettes. UK annually records over 100,000 deaths from diseases caused by tobacco smoke. The global figure is much higher at 5 million.
According to researchers, a lot of these deaths could be avoided with an increase in the use of electronic cigarettes among smokers. However, some people and groups have expressed concern, stating that smoking would be normalised with the rapid proliferation of electronic cigarettes.
Action on Smoking and Health estimates that there are around 700,000 e-cigarette users (also called vapers) While some only use the electronic product, others combine its use with traditional cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes produce a nicotine laced vapour which is inhaled by users. In the process they avoid ingesting harmful chemicals and tar contained in cigarette smoke.
Health psychology professor at the University College London, Robert West, while addressing delegates at this year’s E-Cigarette Summit agreed that the device could help save millions of lives. He pointed out that the participants were there to assess whether this goal is achievable and the best course of action to realise this objective together with the cultural and regulatory requirements needed to ensure its realisation.
He said that it presently was only a dream or a promise and not a reality but added that it is achievable.
A private consultant and researcher on the effects of tobacco and nicotine, Dr Jacques Le Houezec, opines that electronic cigarettes are a revolutionary invention and should not face strict regulation only because it is compared to the tobacco cigarettes, the use of which can result in several harmful consequences.
He says that natural curiosity of adolescents will induce them to try smoking but it would be preferable if they experiment with e-cigarettes rather than tobacco products.
There is an increasing clamour for the regulation of the e-cigarettes industry. UK is set to usher in regulation of the product as medicines from 2016 even though a similar EU proposal was rejected.
Konstantinos Farsalinos, professor with Belgium’s University Hospital at Gathuisberg expressed the need to regulate the industry as soon as possible as companies were taking advantage of the lax regulation to avoid the much needed testing of their products.
Prof Farsalinos who assesses the impact of vaping on the health of e-cigarette users is upbeat about the electronic device even though there is an apparent deficit of regulation.
As the electronic cigarette industry is still in its infancy, there is a lack of long term studies on how they impact the user’s health. Acceptable clinical data requires a large group to be monitored over a number of years. With many smokers switching to e-cigarettes with the sole intention of quitting, following the users over extended periods could prove to be an uphill task.
A 1996 study has shown that there was no significant adverse effects on rats who were exposed to nicotine over a two year period.
The World Health Organisation recommends that electronic cigarettes should not be used till their safety is confirmed as their harmful effects are not really known.
The British Medical Association has called for prohibition of vaping in public. They want e-cigarettes to be regulated strictly to ensure that they are marketed only to smokers who wish to quit smoking and in a manner which does not make them attractive to non-smokers especially youth and children.
Ram Moorthy who is with the British Medical Association feels that vaping makes smoking acceptable. According to him, e-cigarettes are being used where smoking is banned which makes people feel that smoking is considered to be normal behaviour.
University of East London’s Lynne Dawkins advised caution in regulation of e-cigarettes. She stated that electronic cigarettes were apparently the safer alternative to smoking.
She stated that while it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to monitor this huge growth and innovative technology, which was unheard of till now, they have to tread carefully to avoid stifling its dream run.