E-cigarettes in the spotlight

The electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, produces a nicotine-containing aerosol mist rather than tobacco smoke and is used by many smokers to help them quit smoking. Generally the device is the size of a regular cigarette and contains a rechargeable battery and atomizer for vaporizing a liquid intended to simulate the pleasure of smoking without all the harmful effects.

According to Dr Yussuf Saloojee from the National Council Against Smoking, e-cigarettes went through a phase of increased popularity when it first became available in South Africa, but it is unlikely to replace regular tobacco cigarettes.

Although the device contains nicotine, it doesn’€™t have any tobacco and therefore does not fall under the South African Tobacco Products Control Act, and unlike other tobacco products, can be used in public place. However, the Medicines Control Council is looking into the regulation of the sale of these products because of its nicotine content, said Saloojee.

Safety concerns

Little research has been done on the precise contents of the liquids and their potential risks and side effects, leading to increasing warnings around the use of the products.

‘€œThe standard cigarette caused millions of deaths over the course of the last century and would never have been allowed if we had known a hundred years ago what we know now,’€ Martina Poetschke-Langer of the DKFZ German cancer research centre said in a SAPA report.

‘€œConsumers should be able to rely on a product that is safe from a health viewpoint and that is by no means certain in the case of the e-cigarette.’€


The producers of the e-cigarette maintain the device is safe to use and promote it as a healthier alternative to tobacco cigarettes. Many doctors also endorse the e-cigarette as an aid to stopping smoking, and even the British body Cancer Research UK considers them to be safer than real cigarettes and also believe they may be useful in breaking smoking dependence.

A regular e-cigarette user, Alexandra Funck from Germany, argues that although the product isn’€™t healthy, it is much less harmful than regular cigarettes. ‘€œYou also don’€™t have the butts and the ash. Your clothes don’€™t stink and you don’€™t irritate others,’€ she said in a SAPA report.

Possible dangers

Critics of the devise are concerned about the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes. Different brands contain varying amounts of nicotine, which is a stimulant and relaxant, and is also highly addictive. Barbara Steffens from the German health ministry believes that the liquids contain levels of nicotine that are so high that they need to be classified as medications and thus fall under the stringent provisions of the medications act.

Available research point to health risks of the e-cigarette. One study revealed harmful effects on the bronchial passage, possibly caused by the propylene glycol, an anti-freeze agent contained in the liquid, which makes up 90% of the inhaled vapour.

The US Food and Drug Administration has found carcinogenic substances like nitrosamines in the liquid, and there is little clarity on whether there might be effects on “passive smokers” in the immediate environment of the e-smoker.

Poetschke-Langer says the e-cigarette is likely to be just as addictive as the ordinary kind and notes that there is no good evidence that they assist in stopping smoking.

Source: SAPA


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