Vaping or the use of e-cigarettes is a craze that has swept the nation, partly due to various claims that it is a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco and can help ween smokers off typical cigarettes. However, recent studies are urging users to reconsider their views.

The truth is, while many researchers have made claims that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes, there is no significant evidence proving this. What’s more, many such researchers have been found to have a conflict of interest that may have compromised their reported findings.

There is in fact considerable evidence that e-cigarettes have introduced new toxic hazards into the act of smoking and accentuate problems associated with nicotine as a toxic agent.

The oft-cited Public Health England (PHE) study that concluded that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than cigarettes was based on a method that used no empirical data, and derived its estimate based on informant opinions. This is not a scientifically-accepted method used for informing public health policy when other data is available. Moreover, the researchers were compromised by a conflict of interest due to their ties with the industry. The methods used by PHE were shown to be fundamentally flawed in a 2015 editorial published in the authoritative medical journal The Lancet.

As for claims that e-cigarettes help smokers kick their tobacco habits, these too are baseless. Rather, e-cigarettes have emerged to maintain the industry’s market share, as the emerging recognition of the negative health effects of tobacco has seen a reduction in its use.

A recent New England Journal of Medicine study found that 80% of users of e-cigarettes, who were using them to stop smoking, were still smoking cigarettes a year later, compared to only 9% of people who had undergone conventional nicotine-replacement therapy to stop smoking.

Other evidence reviews have pointed to the same conclusions, and show that smokers using e-cigarettes are simply transferring the habit or smoking both cigarettes and e-cigarettes interchangeably. Often, even previous non-smokers take up the e-cigarette habit.

The South African Demographic and Health Survey (SADHS) 2016 reported that 2% of women and 3% of men over the age of 15 use e-cigarettes in South Africa.

The e-cigarettes industry often fails to list all the ingredients its products contain, rather focusing on the fact that e-cigarettes are tobacco free. There are a number of chemicals used in e-cigarettes, the long-term effects of which are not fully known.

Heating the e-cigarette liquid to 200oC has implications for carcinogenesis; e-cigarette liquid contains formaldehyde, which has been classified as “a probable human” carcinogen or cancer-causing compound by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC has yet to examine the carcinogenic risk of nicotine, but has indicated it has elevated nicotine as a high-priority chemical requiring urgent evaluation for cancer risks.

E-cigarettes can also cause health risks that traditional cigarettes do not; the fine and ultrafine particles released in the vapour of e-cigarettes and not in tobacco cigarette smoke are easily deposited into the deeper parts of the respiratory system, which can lead to non-cancer lung disease. A University of San Francisco study in 2018 reported that daily use of e-cigarettes almost doubles the likelihood of a heart attack.

Professor Anthony Westwood, paediatric and child health specialist at the University of Cape Town, told UCT News, “There is increasing evidence showing that both nicotine and the aerosols from these products result in harm such as pulmonary inflammation, impaired immunity and reduced lung function.”

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies issued a position statement in 2014 which called for more evidence to be made accessible, and recommended that e-cigarettes be restricted or banned until more information about their safety is available. In 2018, it released a new position statement around e-cigarette use among youth, calling for the regulation of e-cigarettes as tobacco products and their inclusion in smoke-free policies to protect this vulnerable part of the population from e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices.

The long-term health impacts of e-cigarettes will only be known with concrete evidence a decade or more from now, but there is already enough evidence of harm to health for 98 countries around the world to have already implemented e-cigarette regulations.

Many establishments in South Africa, including the University of Cape Town, are calling on the World Health Organisation to prioritise making the Draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill law in South Africa by the end of the 2019.

Tobacco cigarettes lead to the deaths of millions of people before they came under the radar of governments and the WHO as the dangerous cancer-causing habit they are seen as today, and it is possible that e-cigarettes may just be a repeat of past mistakes.

Source: UCT News

Picture: Unsplash

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