How can anyone trust the e-cigarette?

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I don’t smoke. I never have – not even a drag – and I never will. But this isn’t me getting on a high horse and pointing and laughing at all the smokers out there. This is me trying to make a plausible case for the necessity of scepticism when it comes to the e-cigarette.

[quote]E-cigarettes are the crest of a dangerously slippery slope into nicotine addiction.[/quote]

Commonly described as the best way to quit an addiction to tobacco, the e-cigarette provides a hit of nicotine to users and emits water vapour, created from the nicotine, to simulate the effect of smoking. The e-cigarette currently has around 1.3 million users in Britain, but concerns about the lack of knowledge of its health effects have prompted the EU and the British government to interrogate current laws surrounding the device, resulting in a ban on e-cigarettes for under-18s in the UK. Most have welcomed this, with the president of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, Katherine Delvin, saying that the association had been asking for this change “for years”.

From 2016, however, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency will most likely be licensing the e-cigarette as a medicine in the UK. What mystifies me is how this can be the case when there is virtually no proof, and certainly no official evidence, that the e-cigarette actually helps smokers to quit. Whilst figureheads such as Stephanie Rafanelli and Lionel Shriver, both writing for the Guardian, may describe the device as a godsend when it comes to quitting tobacco, there is absolutely no public data to prove this.

No matter how many former tobacco users push for the advantages of using an e-cigarette instead of other quitting methods such as nicotine patches, until we have access to some hardcore data, no-one can say for certain what the advantages of the e-cigarette are. They may simulate the action of smoking (though I would question what part of this action Nick Green sees as “classy or sophisticated”), but they still leave users hooked on nicotine, the addictive part of a tobacco cigarette.

It’s even more concerning when we delve further into this unknown phenomenon. Because of the lack of regulations over the amount of nicotine that can be inhaled from a single e-cigarette, users risk taking far more nicotine than they would if they were smoking tobacco. The health effects of nicotine addiction are questionable, with most arguing that there is no detrimental effect. Again, however, we are faced with the relative unknown. Though nicotine is by no means the most harmful component of traditional cigarettes, a study published in 2006 in the Journal for Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that nicotine can increase the risk of birth defects for pregnant women, and there are claims that nicotine can increase sugar levels in the blood – a common cause of type 2 diabetes. E-cigarettes do emit water vapour, but nicotine can also be found in this, which can lead to passive inhalation – particularly given that e-cigarettes can currently be used in all public places, whether open or enclosed.

The point is that e-cigarettes simply cannot be trusted until we are clear about their health implications and their ability to aid quitting tobacco use. The move to ban e-cigarettes for under-18s is certainly a positive given young people’s susceptibility to the harmful effects of drugs, but the possibility of e-cigarettes becoming a licensed medicine is absurd. Even if it were proved that the current-level technology of e-cigarettes aided smokers to quit, surely the lack of regulating nicotine inhalation is a cause for deep concern.

Whilst it’s true that e-cigarettes with 0% nicotine are available, for most, “vaping” is a means of obtaining their nicotine hit without the smell and harmful toxins found in cigarette smoke. In fact, users of e-cigarettes containing nicotine haven’t really moved on that far at all; they’ve simply stopped using tobacco. The drug itself, nicotine, is still a problem – in the same way that caffeine addiction is a problem that much of the public wrongly dismiss as inconsequential. Moreover, as many objectors to the e-cigarette have pointed out, vaping reintroduces the image of the cigarette into our everyday lives. If there’s one thing that my literary theory module has taught me, it’s that ideology is inescapable. The e-cigarette, with its flashing light and sleek design, makes nicotine addiction look cool, just as alcohol adverts make alcoholic drinks look cool. This creates a subconscious image where smoking real tobacco is the “in” thing to do again.

E-cigarettes are the crest of a dangerously slippery slope into nicotine addiction. Without extensive research, no-one can comprehend the true effect that this device will have on its users. Quitting nicotine is the best option for everyone concerned and, until proper research is conducted, other quitting methods should be advertised as far more attractive.

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