Electronic cigarettes have definitely caught the imagination of people with the users in Europe alone estimated to be around seven million. Its fan following includes celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Moss. However, the device has also had its share of controversies which includes the case of 41 year old Mothercare worker, Michelle Capewell, who was suspended and ordered to leave the store only because she was found taking a puff at her electronic cigarette in the presence of customers. Research manager of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Amanda Sandford, states that more evidence is required before e-cigarettes can be projected as being totally safe.
This is not an isolated incident of the widely differing opinions about e-cigarettes. Experts on public health have directly opposing views on the device. While some argue that the number of deaths from tobacco related ailments (UK accounts for approximately 100,000 such deaths every year) can be substantially reduced, others claim that it will only be the first step towards smoking, particularly among the youth.
The failure of the Euro MPs to pass a proposal at the European Commission to regulate e-cigs as medicines only compounded the confusion surrounding the product. UK’s regulatory authority had strongly supported the motion.
E-cigarettes draw power from a tiny battery to vapourise a nicotine-laced e-solution containing propylene glycol, which is better known as the ingredient used for generating theatrical smoke. The user inhales this vapour (called vaping) to satisfy his cravings for nicotine. Most importantly, the vapours are devoid of tar and other harmful chemicals that the user would have normally inhaled with tobacco smoke.
Most e-cigarettes are fitted with a LED at the far end, which glows each time a user takes a drag on the device, mimicking the glow of a lighted cigarette. Jeremy Mean who is with the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA), points out that e-cigs offer the user the cigarette experience’ unlike the other nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) such as patches, gums and sprays which merely satisfy nicotine cravings. He opines that the motions of smoking including holding the device are also important aspects of the addiction and therefore, e-cigs may be more effective in certain cases rather than standard NRT.
The Lancet published the results of a study of 657 smokers in its last month’s issue. The study found that both nicotine patches as well as e-cigarettes helped equal number of users to quit smoking over a six month period. The average quitting rate of 6% was by no means spectacular but the users of e-cigarettes who did not quit showed a remarkable reduction in the use of tobacco cigarettes over the period.
Amanda Sandford is of the opinion that they are a great deal safer than tobacco products. Moreover, the adverse effects of passive smoking are almost eliminated as the vapour exhaled by vapers is believed to contain only minimal traces of harmful toxins.
The main issue with e-cigs appears to be the lack of stringent quality control measures and this is the primary reason for the MHRA’s move to regulate the product. The UK is set to regulate e-cigarettes as medicines from 2019. According to Jeremy Mean, the amount of nicotine delivered by different products varies, making some products ineffective when the nicotine intake is sought to be regulated.
There are also apprehensions that e-cigarettes could make smoking socially acceptable once again and give a boost to nicotine addiction. Mean says that this is the precise reason why the product ought to be regulated as medicines, ensuring that they are not specifically promoted among non-smokers and are not available to those under 18 years of age. At present he recommends that people aiming to quit should stick to the standard nicotine replacement therapies.
Amanda Sandford states that the benefits from e-cigarettes appear to exceed by far, the known risks, but the device cannot be considered a cure for all ills. According to her, their research shows that a whopping two thirds of those who take to e-cigarettes, stop using them. They are unfortunately unable to pinpoint the reasons for this phenomenon.