E-Cigarettes: Is it the advent of the end?

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent 
Akin to the biblical and religious association to the end-times, unprecedented events occur and humanity perpetuates its own destruction. Having survived atomic bombs, years of epidemic diseases like the Ebola, Human Immune-deficiency Virus and its associate Tuberculosis, the establishment of a chemical mixture to suppress a craving for another equally destructive chemical like nicotine defies the logic to save the human race.

Electronic cigarettes (ECs) or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) may be defined as devices whose function is to vaporise and deliver to the lungs of the user a chemical mixture typically composed of nicotine, propylene glycol and other chemicals, although some products claim to contain no nicotine, a truth yet to be established. Each device contains an electronic vaporisation system, rechargeable batteries, electronic controls and cartridges of the liquid that is vaporised. They are designed to look like cigarettes. The e-cigarette was invented and patented in China in 2003 by pharmacist, Mr Hon Lik.  In one short decade, these devices have been marketed aggressively and now generate up to USD500 million in revenues annually in the US alone.

International and national health experts have issued warnings against e-cigarettes, calling for research on their impact, regulation of their contents and limits on the way they are marketed, because of the following aspects:

Firstly, the efficacy of these devices for helping people to quit smoking has not been scientifically demonstrated. Nicotine is addictive and addiction to nicotine can lead e-cigarette users to other sources of the drug including tobacco. Notably, marketing for e-cigarettes is clearly designed to attract young people with flavours such as bubble-gum and chocolate.  This is an easily exploitable audience that can influence the uptake of e-cigarettes as a fashionable practice even for non-smokers, explained a Public Health Specialist with the Swaziland National Youth Council. This concurs with Dr. Ehsan Latif, Director in the Department of Tobacco Control at The International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, who comments that this seems like a call to make smoking a normal practice.

Secondly, as with cigarette smoking, adverse health effects for third parties exposed (second-hand exposure) to the vapour cannot be excluded because the use of electronic cigarettes leads to emission of fine and ultra-fine inhalable liquid particles, nicotine and cancer-causing substances into indoor air. Further, nicotine is a poisonous drug that can cause detrimental and life threatening lung diseases and even death. The nicotine cartridges used in e-cigarettes pose a safety hazard for children and other vulnerable people if the nicotine is ingested, inhaled or brought into contact with the skin.

Lastly, without regulation, the chemical contents – including the dose of nicotine – vary from product to product. This can launch a new era of chemically induced diseases in the line of drug resistant tuberculosis that is currently challenging the medical fraternity. Dr. Latif notes that until full research explaining the undercurrent of e-cigarettes is done, regulations on their manufacturing and usage need to be in place.

Moreover, e-cigarettes could undermine the implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [FCTC] Article 8 (protection from exposure to tobacco smoke) and Article 12 (de-normalisation of tobacco use) as e-cigarettes users in public places may claim that their electronic cigarette does not contain tobacco and/or do not produce second-hand tobacco smoke.

On the whole, this calls for governments and advocacy groups to insist on strong measures to minimize the damage on the generally unknowing and innocent populace. It is encouraging and worth applauding that Norway, Singapore and Brazil have introduced restrictions on the sale and use of e-cigarettes, a decision many leaders need to contemplate with urgency.

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
February 2014