Puffing away in public is back, as an approximate 1.3 million people across Britain have now converted into electronic cigarettes. Since they contain no tobacco, e-cigarettes are not governed by laws that ban public smoking. Theoretically, it can be used anywhere and no age restriction.
The e-cigarettes are actually lithium-powered clones that contain a heating device that vapourises nicotine e-liquid enclosed in the cartridge. It gives off vapour that provided enough nicotine hit minus the tar and carbon monoxide found in burning tobacco. Since it produces vapour, and not smoke, users refer to using e-cigs as vaping.
E-cigarettes have been invented in 2003 by a Chinese chemist have sales that have gone through the roof ever since its launch in UK shops in 2007. The country is one of the booming markets for the device but some industries run by restaurateurs, train companies and medical professionals have not been welcoming.
Just last week, Bruce Poole, chef-proprietor of Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, Southwest London, is seriously deliberating on banning e-cigs in his Michelin-starred joint because of the raised eyebrows it caused among his patrons. Pubs, such as JD Wetherspoon with its chain of over 900 branches throughout the UK, have banned their use because it’s difficult to distinguish from cigarettes.
First Capital Connect is one of the rail companies that banned e-cigarettes on their carriages and even at their stations. The British Medical Association has recommended that these nicotine vaporisers be included in the public smoking ban.
Despite the authorities’ cold reception, there are some studies that show electronic cigarettes are actually less damaging to health compared to cigarettes. According to Professor John Britton, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group if British smokers all converted to e-cigs, there will be five million smokers saved from mortal smoking related conditions.
However, it is not without side effects. Inhale too deep and one risks inhaling some of the liquid nicotine instead of the vapour, causing a very dangerous overdose. The fact that e-cigs deliver nicotine, it is still classified as a toxic product and highly addictive. It can affect the circulatory system and might trigger headaches, hypertension, or even irregular heartbeats when too much nicotine is consumed. It also cannot be used by pregnant women as the inhaled nicotine can cross the placenta and affect the unborn foetus.
Aside from the nicotine, e-juice also contains a wide variety of additives such as flavourings to add taste and propylene glycol to make that white, smoky vapour when the e-juice is heated. There are studies done on these additives that have been shown to be safe when taken in small amounts. However, there are no long-term studies on its effects.
The lack of research on e-cigarettes’ long-term health effects have made authorities wary. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BFR) in Germany recognises that additives from the vaporised e-juice may pose some health risks. According to the BFR, it should not be used in non-smoking areas because of its unknown hazards.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, also adds that there are some apprehensions on the extent and safety of the ingredients that make up the inhaled vapour. She added that further studies must be done to verify their effectiveness on smokers who want to quit. A study done in 2012 was published in Inhalation Toxicology that showed the perceived risks are minimal. New York researchers also did their homework and analysed four nicotine solutions and also found it posed minimal hazard to human health for both children and adults.
Another major concern on electronic cigarette is its alleged potential to entice minors into smoking. The Department of Health has no policies on how they are used and in doing so, has become lightly regulated. In theory, children can buy or use them. Nevertheless, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency which regulates medicines in the UK states that electronic cigarettes present in the market do not conform to the agency’s safety, quality, and efficacy standards and plan to regulate them as medicines by 2016.
Managing director Dermot Ryan of E-lites, Britain’s chart-topping e-cigarette brand maintains that the electronic cigarette industry has no other choice but to comply with these stringent measures. He adds that further regulation might raise prices that people might resort to regular tobacco instead. He concurs that people should be able to recognise e-cigarettes from regular ones, which is why E-lites sport green light at the tip.