E cigarettes are in the news. Mark Drakeford, Health Minister in the Labour-run Welsh Government, has announced proposals to ban the use of e cigarettes from public places in Wales. Political commentators have said that, if this proposal becomes law in Wales, it won’t be long before it becomes law in the rest of the UK.
What are e cigarettes?
E cigarettes are electronic devices which resemble tobacco cigarettes. Some have a glowing tip. They contain liquid nicotine, which is vaporised with the aid of a battery. The user inhales the nicotine vapour. S/he gets a nicotine ‘kick’ without the tar which comes with tobacco smoke. Of course it’s the tar that causes the health problems associated with smoking.
Are e cigarettes safe?
They’re much safer than smoking and they have no effect on anyone but the user. The problem of passive smoking, which led to the UK ban on smoking tobacco in public places, doesn’t exist.
Professor John Britton, of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians, has said that if all smokers were to switch to e cigarettes it would prevent 5 million deaths. In his opinion pure nicotine(without the tar) has the same effect on the body as caffeine.
The BMA(British Medical Association), particularly the co-chair of its Public Health Medicine Committee Richard Jarvis, claim that allowing e cigarettes to be used in public places will undermine the legislation banning smoking in public places. The BMA also claims that the use of e cigarettes will encourage people who wouldn’t have considered smoking to take it up.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, a spokesperson for the BMA says of e cigarettes
“We don’t know they’re safe. The content of them varies considerably and adequate research has not been conducted. I would either take them off the shelves or heavily regulate them so that we know the contents are fixed.”
I’m tempted to observe that heavy regulation seems to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction with the BMA, particularly when there’s an element of pleasure involved.
There is, however, one blot on the landscape as far as those who suffer from vascular problems are concerned. Chi Ming Hai, a physiologist at Brown University(Providence, Rhode Island, USA) has conducted a study of nicotine replacement methods and come to the following conclusion.
“In my opinion, if taking nicotine for a short time can lead to a complete cessation of smoking then it will be beneficial to take nicotine as a bridge to smoking cessation. However, our data suggest that long-term consumption of nicotine by use of e cigarettes is likely to increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis by stimulating invasion of vascular smooth muscle cells.”
Can e cigarettes help you to quit smoking?
A recent survey of 6000 smokers conducted by a cancer research centre at the University of London showed that e cigarette users(8% of the total) are more likely to stop smoking than those using other methods of nicotine replacement like patches or gum. (The results were published in Addiction magazine in May of this year.)
On the other hand, research by Dr Pamela Ling, an Associate Professor at the Center for Tobacco Control, Research and Education at the University of California led her to the following conclusion.
“When used by a broad sample of smokers…… e cigarette use did not significantly increase the chances of quitting cigarette smoking.”
(These results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.)
Dr Michael Siegel, Professor of Community Health at Boston University School of Public Health, thinks the British study is significant. This is because it looked at those who said they were using e cigarettes to quit smoking, as opposed to Dr Ling’s study which looked at users of e cigarettes in general.
The pros and cons of e cigarettes
- E cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking.
- There’s no effect on anyone but the user. There’s no such thing as “passive vaping”.
- A lot of people claim that e cigarettes have helped them to quit smoking.
- A recent study conducted at the University of London confirms this.
- The Brown University study suggests that prolonged use of e cigarettes leads to atherosclerosis.
- The BMA correctly points out that the “ingredients” of e cigarettes vary considerably.
- The BMA believes that the use of e cigarettes undermines the law banning smoking from public places.
- The BMA believes that the use of e cigarettes will encourage people to start smoking tobacco.
Should we ban e cigarettes or not?
If you suffer from high blood pressure and/or vascular problems and you’re still smoking you must stop. You must take action right now.
Some of you will be able to quit smoking by will power alone. Some of you will need help – either nicotine replacement(e cigarettes, patches or gum), prescribed drugs or counseling. It doesn’t matter how you do it so long as you do it.
If you don’t suffer from vascular problems but want to quit smoking because you know what it can lead to then please, please give it a go – and keep trying.
But, having quit smoking myself, I can tell you that it’s difficult. I found it much more difficult than the public health ads suggest.
For this reason I think that it would be absolute madness to deny smokers anything that might help them to quit.
For this reason I oppose the proposed limitation on the use of e cigarettes.
There’s something else too.
The language of some campaigners with respect to both smoking and the use of e cigarettes has been very judgemental.
Here are some of the words of Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Health Minister.
Having expressed the fear that e cigarettes might be “normalising” smoking again, he said
“We have spent 30 years creating a climate in this country where people understand that smoking is not glamorous or desirable.”
The implication in these words is that smokers are morally wrong.
I believe that labelling smokers in this way will simply turn them off and stop them trying to quit. Indeed it may induce some of them to carry on smoking out of “sheer cussedness”. ( I’m remembering myself as a young man here!) It will be counterproductive.
Quitting smoking is difficult enough. Smokers need to be met with understanding and given all the encouragement and support they need.