Science | Stoptober, E-cigarettes and the unknown

Science |  Stoptober, E-cigarettes and the unknown

With the current price of cigarettes it’s a wonder anyone can afford to smoke these days, yet more than eight million people in the UK still do. We are now nearly two weeks into Stoptober, the annual stop smoking campaign that challenges smokers to give up cigarettes for 28 days. By refraining from smoking for four weeks you are statistically five times more likely to stay smoke free and with 160,000 people taking part in the scheme last year it is easy to see the appeal in getting involved.

There are many stop smoking aids out there, from nicorette patches to nasal sprays. One of the latest methods to kick the habit is the use of e-cigarettes; nicotine delivery systems that are advertised as a ‘guilt-free’, cheaper alternative to traditional cigarettes, with the added benefit of looking like the real thing. A massive 1.3 million people are reported to be using these devices in the UK alone, with a projected 1 billion in sales predicted globally for 2013. On the whole these devices deliver less nicotine than the conventional cigarette, a characteristic that makes them useful as a potential stop smoking aid as users attempt to reduce nicotine intake. So with a major marketing drive being initiated by the e-cigarette industry to coincide with this year’s Stoptober campaign, just what are e-cigarettes and are they really better for you than your usual 20 deck?

An e-cigarette is a nicotine inhaler, composed of a rechargeable lithium battery, an atomiser with a small heating element, and a cartridge containing nicotine suspended in a mixture of propylene glycol and water. When you ‘vape’ – the term used for inhaling on an e-cig – the mixture in the cartridge is heated and a small amount evaporates, delivering nicotine to the user without the tobacco associated with cigarettes. As a result of this clever design e-cigarettes perform essentially the same function as a normal cigarette, but with reportedly one tenth of the toxins compared to burning tobacco. So, what are the draw backs?

Worryingly, because e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco they currently aren’t subjected to the laws and regulations conventional cigarettes have to adhere to. This means no proof of age is needed to buy these devices, which come in numerous child friendly flavours such as pink bubble gum. With over 80 per cent of all smokers starting in their teens there is a real fear that e-cigarettes could provide a legal route into nicotine addiction and lead to more adult smokers, a pressure the NHS could do without. Similarly much is still unknown about e-cigarettes; no data currently exists on the long term effects of usage, while the toxin levels in emitted vapour remains uncertain. Much research is being conducted into these potential health risks, so until studies are published the jury is still out on e-cigarettes.

 

Louise White

 

The NHS has more information on Stoptober

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