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Beware! e-cigarettes are dangerous

Published:Wednesday | August 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

One of the latest gadgets making the rounds in our island is the electronic cigarette. Also called e-cigarette, this device is a recent addition to tobacco-related substances. What are the effects of this device? Can it be used to break the addiction to regular cigarette? Information from the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control and the Healthy Caribbean Coalition is presented here.

The electronic cigarette was developed in China in 2004. It is usually made of a stainless steel chamber containing various concentrations of nicotine. Powered by a rechargeable battery, it is puffed like a regular cigarette but it does not need to be lit, and no fumes are emitted. Instead, it produces a fine mist which is absorbed by the lungs.

E-cigarettes as gateway drug

People who market the e-cigarette, claim that it can be used to break the habit of smoking 'real' cigarettes. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. These substances contain nicotine of varying levels of potency. There is no evidence that using the e-cigarette will help to break the addiction to tobacco. Instead, this might be a gateway to nicotine addiction.

Further, there is reason to believe that this device is not safe for human consumption. Of great concern is the lack of regulation of the concentrations of nicotine in the e-cigarette. Even more alarming is the announcement in 2008 by the US Food and Drug Administration that laboratory analysis had detected carcinogens and diethylene glycol (a toxic substance) in the e-cigarette.

A recent survey of users of e-cigarettes, published in BMC Public Health (JF Etter, 2010), suggests that smokers are frequently lured into trying e-cigarettes in an effort to stop smoking or at least to reduce the consumption of cigarettes. They also used e-cigarettes so as not to disturb people in close proximity to them while they smoke.

The smokers interviewed reported that they breathe easier and did less coughing. They also preferred the flavours offered in the e-cigarettes. However, they reported that the devices frequently malfunctioned and they worried about the lack of regulation of these devices. The presence of toxic substances in e-cigarettes caused great concern.

The e-cigarette will no doubt be readily available. It is important to introduce regulation of this product, especially since little information is available on its effects. However, at the very least, the presence of nicotine in this device represents a potential source of addiction to users. Beware!

Dr Pauline Williams-Green is a family physician and president of the Caribbean College of Family Physicians; email: