Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are becoming increasingly popular among smokers trying either to quit smoking or reduce their nicotine intake. But are e-cigarettes a significantly healthier option?
The first substitute cigarette was patented in 1963 by Herbert A Gilbert: a smokeless, non-tobacco cigarette that replaced burning tobacco and paper with “heated, moist, flavoured air”. Several companies expressed an interest in manufacturing the device but it was never commercialised and vanished from the public domain in 1967.
The first recognised electronic cigarette was invented by Chinese Pharmacist, Hon Lik in 2000. Hon Lik’s device used a piezoelectric (electric polarization produced by certain crystals by applying mechanical stress) ultrasonic component which vaporised a jet of pressurised liquid that contained nicotine diluted in propylene glycol.
The idea was to create a vapour similar to cigarette smoke that would convey nicotine to the bloodstream via the lungs, without the associated health issues that result from burning paper and tobacco.
E-cigarettes generally consist of a small plastic cartridge that acts both as a container for liquid, and a mouthpiece; an atomizer that vaporises the liquid; and a battery.
Perceived Health Issues
Doubts have been aired concerning whether e-cigarettes offer a viable healthier alternative to smoking. After all, nicotine is still being introduced to the bloodstream. Detractors tend to ignore the fact that the level of nicotine can be regulated by the user; also, the major cause of lung cancer is actually from the burning of paper and tobacco; nicotine is relatively harmless.
Whether electronic cigarettes actually help smokers trying to kick their habit is open to much debate. The concept of e-cigarettes is very new and insufficient data has been collated to give a strong case either way.
Manufacturers claim that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to conventional tobacco products. There are certainly many advantages to the user and the general public:
• The intake of nicotine can be adjusted by the user; some users choose a zero intake of nicotine.
• Cancers that originate from the act of smoking are caused by inhalation of burning paper and tobacco; nicotine is generally considered to be harmless.
• The vapour that comes from the e-cigarette and is blown into the air is harmless. Therefore, e-cigarettes can be used in public areas, such as bars and restaurants, safely and without fear of causing respiratory problems through passive smoking.
• The most difficult part of giving up smoking is the comforting sensation of putting the cigarette into the mouth. E-cigarettes enable the smoker to replicate the act of easing stress that cigarette smoking provides, without the subsequent harm to one’s own body and the comfort of others.
• There is, of course, no stale smoke smell on the clothes and breathe of the smoker!
• E-cigarettes end up being far cheaper to buy, although because of the range available, it’s hard to put a percentage or monetary amount on this. You can end up saving money in the £1,000’s per year.
Studies into Electronic Cigarettes
The US Food and Drug Administration (USDDA or FDA) tested nineteen varieties of electronic cigarettes. In their findings the FDA claimed that traces of known cancer causing agents were found in some of the cartridges tested. The FDA called for electronic cigarettes to be banned.
The Electronic Cigarette Association criticised the findings of the FDA as being too narrow to reach any valid and reliable conclusions. Some medical and health experts lambasted the FDA’s report because the amounts of potentially harmful chemicals found were about one million times lower concentrations than could be considered harmful to health.
Cancer Research UK has stated that continuing to smoke conventional cigarettes is far more harmful than using any form of nicotine replacement therapy.
A UK Government advisory body favours the use of smokeless nicotine cigarettes over traditional “quit or die” approach, believing that e-cigarettes would save more lives.
Electronic cigarettes are considered by many smokers to be the most effective method of giving up smoking.
The benefits to the smoker, their family and friends far outweigh any minor findings to the contrary.