Friday, 12 December 2014

E-Cigarettes: Public Health Friend or Foe?

On the 3rd of December, a seminar hosted by Scott Leischow, 
Professor of Health Services Research at Mayo Clinic, presented the contentious argument, e-cigarettes: public health friend or foe?

E-cigarettes, or ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) were first introduced in China, and in most cases mimic the appearance and behaviour of a combustible cigarette – the major difference being, no tobacco. E-cigarettes are vaporizers and instead of burning tobacco, the device typically contains nicotine. They are marketed as cheap, healthy alternatives to traditional cigarettes, as well as an option for smokers when smoking is not permitted – although, not everyone is convinced.

With health advocates on both sides of the debate, the following points were discussed throughout and beyond the seminar, in relation to their use.

The current trade of E-cigarettes was depicted throughout the presentation, with audience members surprised by how commercialized E-cigarettes are in the US – where ‘Vapour Shops’ have been set up as bar-like stores, where staff wear white coats and where a much indulged ‘smoke-free’ lifestyle is promoted. In 2011- 2012, annual E – Cigarette advertising expenditures in the US tripled from $6.4 million to $18.3 million (1). Although the sale of e-cigarettes is currently illegal in Australia, the idea of e-cigarettes has become increasingly popular – large multinational tobacco companies have begun capitalising on demand for this new product, advertising the E-Cigarette as a healthier way to smoke and an aid in smoking cessation. Despite these promises, the potential health risk associated with e-cigarettes remains undetermined, prompting concern amongst the public health community, who are frequently trying to combat tobacco addiction.

Little evidence-based research has been conducted within the context of E-cigarettes and as a result, there is limited knowledge surrounding the implications (positive or negative) ‘vaping’ has on health. According to professor Leischow, there have been reports of mouth and throat irritation associated with the use of E-cigarettes, but long-term implications are yet to be confirmed due to the small length of time the product has been on the market. Similarly, no change in lung function and no change in cardiac function have been recorded – which to some, suggests a positive alternative to traditional smoking devices. Congruently in one of Leischow’s own studies, a reduction in nicotine cravings was observed in participants regardless of containing lower quantities of nicotine in their blood compared to that of traditional cigarettes (2). However, one study (mentioned in the seminar) identified a correlation between nicotine poisoning and the current growth of e-cigarette popularity – placing doubt on the common perception that e-cigarettes present less risk; more research is needed.

Have a full read of the report here.

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