May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. Smoking actually is a socially acceptable form of substance abuse that causes more deaths than more vilified ones like alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth and other recreational drugs. Cigarettes contain over a dozen carcinogens and 1 out of every 3 cancer-related deaths is caused due to use of tobacco products. Smokers even whilst accepting the hazardous effects of smoking simply don’t have the will power or gumption to quit. There are various smoking cessation methods that help smokers quit including nicotine patches, gums and e-cigarettes where the underlying principle is to give addicts the nicotine “kick” without the harmful carcinogens found in tobacco. The most popular one is the electronic cigarette or the E-cig.
What’s an e-cig?
An electronic cigarette is a device that mimics the entire smoking process by producing a mist which has the same sensation (sometimes the same flavour too) of smoking. The concept of an electronic cigarette has been around since the 60s but tobacco consumption wasn’t really considered hazardous back then and it took until 2003 for the first smokefree e-cigarette to hit the market.
Electronic Cigarettes manufacturers claim that they are like real cigarettes except that there are no hazardous health implications because there is no combustion, no tobacco and no smoking. Also since there is no passive smoking, second hand smoke and pollution due to butt litter or smoke.
What’s in an e-cig?
The e-cigarette basically consists of three parts: Cartridge, Atomizer and Power supply.
The cartridge’s a mouthpiece (like a cigarette’s butt) that usually holds the liquid that is to be vaporized. The atomizer serves as a heating element and vaporizes the liquid and each of them contains a power supply like a chargeable plug, USB drive or batteries.
An e cigarette produces nicotine infused vapour and though it looks like smoke is actually atomised air. Some e-cigs replace this nicotine vapour with other flavours like vanilla, chocolate, etc. though certain anti-smoking groups feel this could encourage minors to smoke. As a smoking cessation tool some manufactures even look to replicate the flavour of particular brands like Marlboro, Camel, etc.
Are they really less harmful?
E-cigs are primary used as a smoking replacement or a smoking cessation device to help smokers quit though the lack of studies and its relative novelty make it hard to judge its health effects. According to United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), known carcinogens were detected into the nicotine-cartridges and there were also concerns it could be marketed to younger people. However FDA methods have been derided in various journals for lack of evidence and which claimed that the nicotine content was a lot lower than actual cigarettes as were the health hazards.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on the other hand have voiced their opinion that though e-cigs are usually marketed as devices for nicotine replacement therapy there were no studies to back up that claim and has refused to endorse the device.
Research carried out at the University of East London suggests that nicotine content doesn’t seem to be of central importance but other smoking related mannerisms like taste, vapour resembling smoke and hand movements helps reduce discomfort related with tobacco abstinence in the short term.
In an online survey conducted by the University of Alberta, School of Public Health in 2009 among 303 smokers, it was found that e-cigarette substitution for tobacco cigarettes resulted in reduced health problems, the kind that usually ails smokers (less cough, improved ability to exercise, -improved sense of taste and smell).
Although there isn’t conclusive evidence to suggest that e-cigs are completely harmless at least all the research studies suggest that they and are definitely less harmful than traditional cigarettes. They also provide smokers with the means to quit by mimicking the mannerisms of long time users right from the hand movements, inhaling and the atomised vapour that imitates smoke.