In an effort to stop smoking, many people in the United Kingdom have switched from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes to wean themselves off of nicotine and other harmful chemicals found in most cigarettes. Even though the safety of e-cigarettes is still being studied, experts in the field consider them to be revolutionary.
Life Saving Cigarette Alternatives
In the UK alone, over 100,000 people die each year from smoking and the estimates worldwide attribute more 5 million deaths per year to this activity. At a recent E-Cigarette Summit, Robert West, who is a professor of health psychology at the University College London, said that electronic cigarettes could save “literally millions of lives.”
Currently e-cigarettes are not regulated, but their designation as cigarettes have some advocates and researchers concerned that they could unfairly fall under current smoking laws that bans smoking in public places. Already there are many locations in the UK banning their use in public venues.
A private consultant, who has studied the effects of smoking, Dr. Jacques Le Houezec, said over-regulation would be unfair. He called them a “revolution” and went on to state that e-cigarettes would be preferably for adolescents to experiment with when they try smoking, rather than using regular tobacco.
Some Pushing Regulations
However, there are some advocates that are pushing to regulate e-cigarettes because they don’t want to see more people using them as an excuse to start smoking. According to Action on Smoking and Health, over 700,000 people in the UK use e-cigarettes. Even though some users smoke them exclusively, others smoke tobacco cigarettes while also “vaping.”
Vaping is a term used when using e-cigarettes because users inhale vaporized nicotine instead of the toxic chemicals found in regular tobacco products. Even though a proposal by the EU to regulate them as medicine was rejected, by 2016, the UK still plan to license e-cigarettes as a medicine. However, it is expected that they will still be available to purchase over-the-counter once the regulation is in effect.
Still, the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking is undeniable, according to some people. Studies have found that e-cigarettes are just as effective as the nicotine patch for getting people to quit smoking, maybe even more effective.
According to a study conducted at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, 7.3% of e-cigarette smokers had quit smoking within six months of the study, compared to 5.8% of those on the nicotine patch. The researchers compared the effectiveness of e-cigarettes to nicotine patches in 657 study participants.
How Safe are They?
Since they are still relatively new, there is no reliable data on the effects of e-cigarettes on human health. In order to get this data, a large group of users would have to be followed for several years and, because most people use them to stop smoking, following their usage of electronic cigarettes would be difficult.
Studies that have been conducted on rats have shown no ill effects from inhaling liquid nicotine after two years. Dr. Le Houezec said that the information from this 1996 study was reassuring. Still, concern about the health risks of inhaling vaporized nicotine remains. Some countries have banned their use and others regulate them as medicine so they can only be purchase in pharmacies with a prescription.
Many people, including researchers, see e-cigarettes as a safer smoking alternative to tobacco and advise light regulations for them. They can be effective in helping people to quit or cut down on smoking. Still others are concerned that promoting these products will normalize smoking, including regular cigarette smoking, which could escalate health problems associated with smoking, including heart disease and cancer.