Although they may look similar to conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are not lit, neither do they contain tobacco. They are battery-powered electronic devices, originating initially from China that, when the user sucks on the mouthpiece, produce a microprocessor-controlled puff of vapour containing nicotine and propylene glycol. As such, they reproduce the ‘hand-to-mouth’ action of smoking cigarettes but do not, of course, expose the user to the harmful effects of inhaling tobacco smoke. The apparently growing world-wide popularity of e-cigarettes has drawn attention from numerous health agencies and advocacy groups. Intuitively, one might have thought in a positive sense –after all these devices are almost certainly a lot less risky than regular cigarettes and probably less risky even than smokeless tobacco products. But the prevailing attitude has so far been quite the reverse – some regulatory authorities, such as those in Australia have already banned, others such as those in Canada are in the process of restricting their sale, and in the US the FDA are reportedly planning a crackdown against them (http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_11873938?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.)
So what exactly is all the fuss about? Surely offering smokers another, much less risky, alternative to cigarettes to choose from isn’t a bad thing, even if only a small minority switch? But no, all kinds of objections have been raised to try and either get the products taken off the market or dissuade smokers from using them. These include: have not been proven safe; have not been proven to be an effective smoking cessation aid; might attract kids; children might be poisoned by eating the nicotine-containing cartridges that the devices use; they allow smokers to get round smoking bans. Taking these objections in order: few, if any, things are completely safe and tests so far, albeit on only one e-cigarette brand, have found no cause of serious concern; they are mostly marketed as cigarette alternatives rather than quitting aids (but if they help people to quit, surely that is an added benefit); the upfront cost of the device plus charger is relatively high (typically US$100 and up) so they would seem unlikely to attract kids – having said that, they certainly should not be marketed to them; whilst the cartridges should be kept out of the reach and sight of children, the same could be said of many products found in the house; the same criticism could be levelled at pharmaceutical NRT products in terms of them being marketed to reduce cravings during temporary abstinence from smoking. And I’m not the only one to question the evidence that e-cigarettes are a hazard (see for example http://www.24-7pressrelease.com/press-release/ecigarettes-under-attack-by-fda-and-who-are-they-really-unsafe-91658.php) Is it simply the case that some hard-liners in tobacco control don’t like e-cigarettes because in the hands of the user they look like conventional cigarettes? But what do others think about these products and how they should be regulated? Has anyone tried them?