The Controversial Alternative: Are E-Cigs The Way Out For Smokers?

in General 01 January 1999

They don’t contain tar and they don’t contain tobacco, but they do offer smokers a safer way to consume nicotine and experts believe that, if all smokers switched, they could save five million lives in the UK alone. The simple devices heat a small amount of nicotine, suspended in water and glycerine, until a vapour is produced which is then inhaled – no smoke is produced and none of the carcinogens found in tobacco cigarettes are inhaled.

While millions of existing smokers worldwide are embracing this healthier technology, its adoption is not quite as simple as that – some fear unknown health effects, others fear the impact on children while some politicians are merely concerned with tax loss rather than public health.

This latest guest post, provided by electronic cigarette retailer and industry experts VIP, looks at these contentious devices, why they’re so popular, what their benefits might be and what the future holds.

Why Are E-Cigarettes So Popular?

Put simply, electronic cigarettes offer existing smokers a much safer and healthier way of satisfying nicotine cravings; it’s the countless carcinogens found in tobacco cigarettes that have massively negative impacts on the health of smokers, and e-cigarettes cut all this out while still delivering nicotine in a similar fashion.

It’s what makes them attractive to existing smokers, satisfying their cravings in a comparatively effective (but less harmful) manner; the ingredients of an e-cigarette are typically water, nicotine, glycerine, propylene glycol and any flavourings.

But it’s not just the nicotine in e-cigs that have seen their popularity skyrocket over the last few years – it’s the personal, recreational nature of the product that’s proving so effective. In addition to the cigarette lookalikes which are flavoured with popular tobacco tastes as well as other sweeter flavours, user can utilise re-fillable tanks to concoct their own mixes of flavours and control the strength of nicotine themselves. Effectively, users can create a nicotine delivery product

Why Are They Controversial?

There has been some finger-pointing and concern from politicians and (some) health groups that the lack of specific/strict regulation on electronic cigarettes makes them categorically unsafe – or at the very least that their safety is in doubt. Currently in the UK electronic cigarettes are classed as a consumer product – providing they comply with existing EU product safety regulations, such as being RoHS Compliant or CE Certified, then they can be sold anywhere in the EU.

Additionally, until recently, there was no legal age restriction on the purchase of e-cigs. While many manufacturers and retailers would not sell to under-18s, and there is also an electronic cigarette industry regulator who ensure its members enforce this, there was no legal reason to do so.

Much of the controversy, however, hinges on the key ingredient in e-cigs – the nicotine. Despite the fact that electronic cigarettes are marketed as, and strictly speaking designed to be, recreational products rather than cessation aids, there are a number of European health ministers who feel the only way to effectively regulate the products is to do so as medical products.

This would mean strict medical testing on all contents, restrictions on sales/packaging/advertising and a burden on electronic cigarette retailers to scientifically prove they can help people quit smoking.

What Does The Future Hold?

From a negative point of view, the electronic cigarette’s future does look a bit shaky – in Europe at least. An article 18 amendment to the Tobacco Product Directive (which would include non-tobacco nicotine products) would force all manner of incredibly restrictive pieces of legislation on e-cigs – effectively subjecting them to the same laws as tobacco cigarettes, but with the added imposition of expensive medical testing and massive reductions in nicotine strengths and flavouring variety.

Bodies like the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seem to stand by this stance of treating e-cigs both as a tobacco product and a medicinal product (rather than the more appropriate label of a consumer product) this could happen by 2016 unless the agency changes its mind.

What these regulations could do is end up with a flavourless, low-strength and expensive e-cigarette available only from pharmacies and big pharmaceutical companies with little to no market competition – resulting in a wholly ineffective and unattractive product which sees e-cig users switching back to smoking.

However, should the industry be able to ride this out (whether compromising with regulation or being able to agree self-regulating terms) then growth should continue even more positively over the next few years. Electronic cigarette sales were $2bn globally by 2013, are expected to exceed $3bn over the next year, and are currently used by over one million smokers in the UK – should these trends continue, then there’s the potential for millions of lives to be saved by people switching to a far healthier alternative as well as a massive, much needed boost for the British economy.

Whatever the outcome, e-cigarettes are well and truly engrained into modern society and the numbers of people turning to them are growing exponentially.

This guest post was written by Tom McShane – tech & health blogger and writer for UK e-cig retailer VIP, who stock electronic cigarettes, photon tanks and e-liquids as a healthier alternative to smoking.

The British Wheel of Yoga