Are electronic cigarettes safe?

Lately,  more and more people are turning to electronic cigarettes (E-cigarettes) to help with smoking cessation. In fact in the UK around 650,000 smokers are thought to be using the inhalers, which look like pens or cigarettes, to help kick the habit.

That number is expected to top 1 million this year with the industry worth £150m in the UK and $520m in theUS. Clearly this is an industry on the rise, but are E-cigarettes truly safe as they claim and has enough research been conducted to confirm this?

One of the main concerns is over the lack of regulation. At present the devices, which are all imported fromChina, do not have to undergo any safety checks before being put on sale in the high street.

Health Ministers Simon Burns expressed his concern about the E- cigarettes when he said: “The available data suggests that there can be great variability in the content of electronic cigarettes, both in the amount of nicotine present and also in relation to other potentially toxic substances.”

“Some electronic cigarettes have been tested by local authority trading standards departments and have been found to pose a potential danger to consumers.”

In fact certain brands have been found to contain high levels of poisonous chemicals including tobacco specific nitrosamines, a substance given off by nicotine which has been shown to cause cancer in rats, Diethylene glycol, a poisonous chemical which is fatal in exceptionally high doses and then there is the fact that the actual nicotine itself has been found in very high levels in some brands.

With all this evidence in mind the Government’s Drugs Watchdog, the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), will make a decision next spring on whether to introduce stricter checks.

Tellingly a New York State Assembly has voted overwhelmingly 125-0 to ban E-cigarettes and they have already been banned in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico and New Zealand. In other countries such as Finland, Malaysia and Singapore, they are under restriction and such rulings are pending in other countries.

Despite all of this, the Government’s Drugs Watchdog the (MHRA) does not want to ban electronic cigarettes completely as it could lead people to go back to ordinary cigarettes. This is a view echoed by Deborah Arnott, spokesman for the charity Action on smoking and health: “We certainly wouldn’t want smokers to think it’s better to go back to using cigarettes rather than E-cigarettes. We just want to see them properly regulated, presently they are made in China but they are not properly regulated on how much nicotine they contain or on their safety quality.”

E-cigarettes are part of a long line of drugs used to help people kick the habit. Before E-cigarettes there was nicotine gum and patches which had limited success but more recently in 2007 a new drug was released called Champix, a drug which contains no nicotine and works by stimulating the nicotine receptors in the brain and thus relieves the craving and withdrawal symptoms you can get when you stop smoking.

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