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No smoke without fire: the ugly face of E-cigarettes

ByKristoffer Stewart

Sep 30, 2014
courtesy of eilish mclaughlin

Illustration: Eilish McLaughlin


Smoking has been on the decrease for the last few decades. This has been achieved through greater public awareness of the dangers, specialist support, and willpower. A new player has entered the arena to seemingly aid this struggle: the Electronic Cigarette (E-cigarette).

Although the E-cigarette has became popular within the last few years it has been under development for the last several decades. In 2003 a Chinese pharmacist and smoker, Han Lik, developed the modern E-cigarette after his father’s death from lung cancer. Since this development in China, it has spread rapidly to the EU and US markets.

According to research by ASH.org, 2.1 million people in the UK use E-cigarettes, of these only 700,000 use it to quit. The remainder use it alongside their regular tobacco cigarettes.

Individuals who opt to quit with E-cigarettes will save money, avoid many of the harmful chemicals in tobacco and are able to get their nicotine fix without being herded to smoking areas. Or so we are lead to believe.

Researchers have found, “E-cigarette users experience diminished lung function, airway resistance and cellular changes, regardless of whether or not they currently (or ever) smoked”. The liquid nicotine which is used in the cartridges is toxic and can be lethal. Harm can be caused not only by inhalation but also by absorption through the skin. E-cigarettes have also been known to explode – one case lead to the death of a Merseyside man.

All in all it seems that there are still pertinent questions surrounding the E-cigarette; so why has this product been allowed to go to market? The long and short of it is a complete void of regulation. The MHRA (Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) merely encourages companies to submit a medicines licence requirement until 2016.

Without this regulation there is no quality control. It has been found that nicotine levels do not always tally up with the manufacturer’s description on the packet. This inaccurate disclosure of ingredients means you cannot know what you are inhaling. I’ve spoken to tobacco smokers who have valiantly wanted to quit and used E-cigarettes to help them. If they relapse back into tobacco smoking, which is common in quitters, they often need to smoke more to match the nicotine their body had adjusted to with the E-cigarette.

As a non-nicotine-addict I’ve never condoned smoking and my opinions of the E-cigarette are no different. The vapour is just as obnoxious as the smoke of tobacco and the associated accessories bring it further down in my estimate. Rarely can I walk down a busy street without seeing the nylon cord attached to a tacky plastic purse containing the E-cigarette, hanging around the neck of the smoker. I don’t understand why they need this quick-to-hand nicotine hit to be in the form of a necklace like the snuff boxes of the 19th century.

The biggest concern is not whether it will explode or if you look fetch with your E-cigarette accessories but rather that the big tobacco companies are heavily involved with the E-cigarette industry. They are losing customers due to lower levels of smoking, so the big names in tobacco see an opportunity in the form of the E-cigarette. They are not concerned with the health of their consumers; instead they want to shift their addiction and profit to a new habit.

Hopefully with further regulation these will become a genuine alternative, which is not only safe but can gradually help people move away from smoking tobacco cigarettes.


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