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E-cigarettes: the ‘cure’ to stop smoking globally or just as bad as its rival?

Written by Science, Science & Tech

Walking down Northumberland Street, you’ll often see the white vapour of E-cigarettes floating across your path, often in a variety of questionable scents. E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular, with the number of ‘vapers’ globally rising from seven million in 2011, to a staggering 35 million in 2016. Furthermore, market research group Euromonitor estimates the number of E-cigarette users will rise to almost 55 million by 2021. Therefore, with the use of E-cigarettes ever increasingly on the rise, what are the benefits of E-cigarette use as an alternative to smoking, are they in fact more dangerous than cigarettes, and how much information can we believe given the affiliation of scientists with some tobacco companies?

An E-cigarette is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine without most of the harmful effects of smoking.

E-cigarettes work by heating and creating a vapour from a solution that typically contains nicotine. The solution is usually a thick, colourless liquid called propylene glycol and/or glycerine; and flavourings. As there’s no burning involved, there’s no smoke, so this means substances such as tar and carbon monoxide are not produced. This means that E-cigarettes are often viewed as a much healthier alternative to smoking since carbon monoxide and tar, two of the main toxins in conventional cigarette smoke, have been associated with diseases such as cancer, as well as having detrimental effects on breathing and circulation.

In addition, E-cigarettes are seen as closely related to nicotine replacement therapy, which has been confirmed as a much safer alternative to smoking.

As a result, E-cigarettes have been promoted as a much better alternative to smoking, two out of three people who used e-cigarettes in combination with the NHS stop smoking service quit smoking successfully in the year up to April 2015. This could be seen as a result of E-cigarettes containing nicotine, therefore curbing the craving of cigarette smokers without other harmful chemicals, and so using E-cigarettes is seen as a smaller risk to health.

However, there have been some criticisms of E-cigarettes due to lack of long term knowledge and safety concerns.

For example, whilst there is relatively a much lower level of harmful substances, they still contain cancer causing chemicals as well as still containing high levels of nicotine, and so this causes concern that people see vaping as a ‘cure’ for smoking, when the real treatment would be to not smoke at all.

Furthermore, recent stories have emerged about the explosion of E-cigarettes, which has occurred as a result of batteries within the E-cigarette reacting with batteries in phones in pockets, which has led to people suffering from severe burns and injuries.

Some people are also of the opinion that vaping is actually more intrusive to others than normal cigarettes, as the vapour produced from the E-cigarette is extremely thick and often odorous , although there is no evidence that vaping causes harm to others around you unlike second hand cigarette smoke.

Whilst disadvantages of E-cigarettes have been pointed out, these points have been questioned as a result of some scientists being associated with tobacco companies, whose business obviously relies on the purchase of cigarettes.

Therefore, the motives behind the information published against E-cigarettes has been questionable.

For example, in the 1990’s, Professor Eiji Yano published a report whose reliability was questioned due to Yano’s association with tobacco industry lawyers Covington and Burling. Therefore, with scientists affiliated with tobacco companies commenting on the disadvantages of E-cigarettes, how reliable really are they as sources?

This question could also be raised as a result of the E-cigarette market rapidly increasing in recent years, now being estimated to be worth around £17.1 billion globally, which could be seen as directly competing with the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies could be  concerned of the threat of E-cigarettes to the industry and so are trying to coerce scientists to disregard E-cigarettes as a smoking alternative.

Therefore, whilst there have been doubts over the positives of E-cigarettes, how can smoking a normal cigarette known to contain far higher levels of damaging substances and sources discrediting the alternative being questioned be better?

Last modified: 26th November 2018

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