Are Electronic Cigarettes a Danger to our Health?
Are Electronic Cigarettes a Danger to our Health?
Starting at a new university is a huge change for an 18 year old. Most of us
choose to live away, so for the first time we are made to live with people we
don’t know, attend lectures we know nothing about and try to socialise in a city
that is completely new to us. What shocked me most when I came to university was
the amount of people my age that were smoking; I studied medicine too so was
surprised to see that so many of my peers were joining in even when they knew
the risks. Many of my house-mates called themselves ‘social smokers,’ that is
they only smoke on a night out. In the last year or so I have seen more and more
people my age put down their cigarettes and take to ‘vaping’ instead: using
electronic cigarettes in the place of real ones. When this trend first started
it seemed harmless enough, and we were all under the impression that
e-cigarettes only contained water vapour, so how could this be harmful? However,
recent research has questioned this, and after all, isn’t that how we found out
that smoking normal cigarettes caused cancer?
When the legislation came in to ban smoking in public places the amount of
smokers decreased dramatically: apparently standing outside a club in the
freezing cold was not an attractive thought. But since E-cigarettes were
introduced to the market 3 years ago there has been an increase in the number of
people trying out smoking, particularly those in the younger age categories.
Recent research has found that 20.3% of smokers have tried e-cigarettes, and
1.2% of people who have never smoked have also tried them. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the prevalence of young
people in grades 6-12 having used e-cigarettes in the past month had doubled
from 1.1% to 2.1% from 2011 to 2012. The study also found that the use among
high school students had increased from 1.5% to 2.8%. This is a significant
number since e-cigarettes contain the addictive compound ‘nicotine,’ meaning
that they are not completely harmless.
So, with so many of today’s youth experimenting with electronic cigarettes, how
much do we actually know about them?
What are Electronic Cigarettes?
There are many different shapes and sizes of e-cigarettes depending on the
manufacturer, but they all work in a similar way. All e-cigarettes will contain
a battery, an atomizer and a cartridge which is sometimes replaceable. The
cartridge is where the liquid nicotine is held in a solution of water and
flavourings, and this liquid is drawn up into a heating element when the patient
sucks on the device. The liquid then evaporates, sending some of it into your
lungs and some into the atmosphere around you.
Regular cigarette smoke contains around 7000 cancer causing chemicals as a
result of the burning tobacco. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, which is why
many people think they are safe, but because of the nicotine in the cartridge
they are still just as addictive as regular cigarettes.
The cartridge which holds the nicotine also contains a number of other chemicals
which help the liquid to evaporate. These include a number of flavours such as
apple and strawberry, which appeal to a younger market. There is also a compound
called propylene glycol in the cartridge. If someone handed you a can of
aircraft de-icer would you inhale it? Because Propylene glycol is the main
component of both.
Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe?
The real answer is that we aren’t entirely sure yet. A new study by the American
Association for Cancer Research has shown that the vapour from e-cigarettes
causes a similar pattern of gene expression in bronchial cells to tobacco smoke.
That being said, it is not yet known whether this change is carcinogenic as
e-cigarettes have not been on the market long enough.
When discussing the safety of e-cigarettes we must also take into account the
danger of the cigarette itself. There have been a number of instances where
e-cigarettes have exploded and actually injured people. One elderly woman was
turned into a human fireball when her oxygen supply was ignited by the
e-cigarette after a hip operation.
What are the Regulations Surrounding Electronic Cigarettes?
Well, at the moment there aren’t any, which is causing the British Medical
Association (BMA) and World Health Association (WHO) a great deal of concern.
Whilst e-cigarettes can be used as an aid to quitting smoking there is no
current evidence to say that it is successful at this, or that it is completely
without its own risks.
The WHO have urged doctors to refrain from recommending them to their patients
as an aid for stopping smoking. Instead, the nicotine inhalator should be
offered, as it has been fully regulated and is known to be safe. There is a
worry that is doctors condone the use of e-cigarettes they might be hit by a
mass of clinical
negligence claims in the future, if it is decided that they are in fact
harmful to our health.
What Happens Now?
The WHO have said that e-cigarettes are to be licensed and fully regulated from
2016, at which point, if they pass all of the regulations, they will be
prescribed as a genuine aid to quitting smoking.
But is this enough? In a study of young people who use e-cigarettes in Cheshire
and Merseyside, 31% said that they had either never smoked before or didn’t like
normal cigarettes, where as e-cigarettes had nice flavours. This shows that the
different flavours and hype surrounding e-cigarettes is attracting people who
would not ordinarily have smoked. E-cigarettes have already been banned in
Canada, Brazil and Singapore for this reason.
The director of professional activities for the BMA, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, has
said that children were beginning to use e-cigarettes as a direct result of
advertising campaigns- something which is banned for regular cigarettes. So
again, this is something that needs to be looked at.
On a Lighter Note…
Students at Lincoln University have created an app for the iPhone which works
with e-cigarettes to help people to quit smoking. Although they know that
e-cigarettes are not yet regulated, they believe that their app would be used
for good, helping people to quit smoking by reducing the amount of nicotine they
would inhale with each cigarette.
The project is called ‘Relieve’ and would connect the electronic cigarette to an
iPhone via Bluetooth, so that the app could reduce the strength of nicotine the
smoker was getting. The app would also chart the smoker’s progress, showing them
how much longer they had to go before they would be free of nicotine: this type
of encouragement from a smoking cessation nurse has been shown to help people to
quite. The app also tells the user how much money they have saved, and how much
their risk of a heart attack had dropped!
This project really does show how electronic cigarettes can in fact be used for
good, and it’s no wonder that they won the Vodafone 24 Createathon, earning the
students an iPad each and an internship with Vodafone.
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Smoking and drugs