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Scientists Say E-Cigarettes Could Save Millions of Lives, Call for Light Regulation

On Tuesday, scientists, experts, policymakers and industry officials gathered at the Royal Society of London to discuss how electronic cigarettes can save millions of lives claimed by tobacco smoking every year, during the 2013 E-Cigarette Summit.

e-cigarette-and-eliquidThe safety of vaping has long been questioned by electronic cigarette opponents, but the scientists and experts present at this year’s E-Cigarette Summit, in London, seemed to agree that using the battery-powered devices is in fact much safer than smoking tobacco. Although e-cigs are relatively new, and there have been no long-term studies into the effects of inhaling propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin on the human body, the data we do have so far shows the danger to be minimal. Doctor Jacques Le Houezec, a consultant in public health and tobacco dependence from France, told attendants that while electronic cigarette e-liquid contains some harmful substances, the level of hazardous toxicants were found to be 9 to 450 times lower than in cigarette smoke. “We’ve been in the field for very long, this for us is a revolution,” Le Houezec said. “Every adolescent tries something new, many try smoking. I would prefer they try e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes.”

Robert West, professor of health psychology at University College London, said electronic cigarettes are 95 to 99 percent safer than analogs and that they have the potential to save millions of lives. “The big question, and why we’re here, is whether that goal can be realized and how best to do it… and what kind of cultural, regulatory environment can be put in place to make sure that’s achieved,” he told delegates. “I think it can be achieved but that’s a hope, a promise, not a reality.” West also questioned the decision of several countries to ban e-cigarettes, instead of encouraging them to try a less harmful alternative.

Although most anti-smoking organization seem hell-bent on having e-cigarettes regulated in the same way as tobacco cigarettes, Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Heath (ASH) told AFP: “Ash thinks that e-cigarettes have significant potential. They are a lot less harmful than smoking. Clearly smokers find them attractive, primarily as a way of quitting and moving away from smoking, which they know will kill them.” Arnott also talked about Big Tobacco’s growing presence in the e-cigarette sector, saying: “The tobacco companies are moving in. For them it’s potentially a ‘Kodak moment’ because if everyone moved to e-cigarettes, they’d lose their market, so they’ve got to be in there. A lot of the bigger e-cigarette companies have already been bought up.”

The issue of e-cigarette regulation was also brought up during the London summit, with most delegates asking for light regulation that would allow the industry to keep growing and encourage technological advancements. “We don’t want to spoil this great opportunity we have for overseeing this unprecedented growth and evolving technology that has not been seen before, We have to be careful not to stump that,” Lynne Dawkins, from the University of East London, told the BBC. At the same time, Doctor Konstantinos Farsalinos, a big supporter of e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, expressed the need for some kind of regulation to be put in place as soon as possible. “Companies are all hiding behind the lack of regulation and are not performing any tests on their products, this is a big problem,” the Greek scientist said. This is indeed a serious problem, as e-liquids and vaping devices of questionable quality can be commercialized without anyone asking questions.

As professor West warned during Tuesday’s event, cigarettes are currently killing 5.4 millions of people around the world, so even though the long-term health implications of using electronic cigarettes are still unknown, they have the potential of saving those millions of lives. Unfortunately, in order to have long-term clinical data, a large group of vapers would need to be monitored for several years, which could prove difficult. We do however have some knowledge about the effects of inhaling nicotine for years, from a study performed in 1996, on rats. After they inhaled nicotine for two years, scientists observed no harmful effects. On the other hand, ASH’s Deborah Arnott warned that “if there are carcinogens in there, you won’t see an immediate effect but 10, 15, 20 years down the line, people will be dying from that.” All the more reason to push for more clinical studies, but should Governments really base their decision about a potentially life-saving solution based on a simple possibility?

Photo: Lauri Rantala

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