Countries around the world are making amendments to limit their citizen’s access to e-cigarettes, but how bad are they? Are the claims that smoking e-cigarettes is a gateway drug to more traditional smoking forms valid? In the U.S., Chicago has followed New York in a move to ban the smoking of e-cigarettes inside bars, restaurants, offices and other public buildings. The motion in Chicago was passed 45-4, but there are some who are unhappy with the changes. Alderman Brendan Reilly stated that this move binds up e-cigarette users with regular combustible users, when often e-smokers are trying to get away from traditional cigarettes.
In the UK, Britain and Wales have moved to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18. This is after fears were raised that children could be getting into e-cigarettes early, and then moving on to regular cigarettes. The electronic devices that are mostly battery operated, come in bright colors and ornate designs. While they can sometimes mimic regular cigarettes (these are known as the cig-a-like model), they also come in larger sizes that look like flashlights or clever toys. These can have mouthpieces reminiscent of a baby pacifier. In addition, e-cigarettes have a wider variety of flavors, ranging from cigar to gummy bears, watermelon, chocolate or peanut butter. Advertising for the devices often mentions these flavors, and can make them sound similar to harmless products such as chewing gum.
A study by the anti-smoking campaigners Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found that while many teenagers had heard of e-cigarettes, few had tried them and even less were smoking them regularly. However, the study did find that teenage smokers were buying cigarettes from private individuals rather than from stores. This has prompted a move to restrict the selling of regular cigarettes to those under the age of 18 in the UK. According to the study, the main reason for using e-cigarettes was to wean smokers off smoking. This would seem to imply that these devices did not lead to a regular habit. Thus suggesting that smoking e-cigarettes is not a gateway to trying worse kinds of drugs. It seems that the move to lump e-cig users with regular smokers, could be detrimental to those who are trying to quit.
Other worries are the cartridges of liquid nicotine that are provided to refill some brands of e-cigarettes. These vessels, often called e-juice, have no child resistant closures to them, making them easy for young children to open. The amount of nicotine in each one is said to be as much as 100mg per teaspoon, about the same as an entire pack of cigarettes. If ingested by a small child, it would be enough to cause seizures and require hospitalization. If the cartridges contain a flavored liquid, the smell may interest a child and thus they could be more likely to try it.
The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are still largely unknown. Users inhale nicotine and exhale water vapor which is considered less damaging than regular second-hand smoke. Also the devices are free of toxins found in regular cigarettes like tar. But the World Health Organization has stated that e-cigarettes may contain harmful toxins which are not visible on the label. There has not been a lot of study put into the dangers of using the devices and as such, their health risks remain a mystery. In spite of this, it seems that at least young people are a much smaller percentage of users than imagined and regular smoking still remains the problem at large. While the health risks of the drugs such as nicotine remain, smokers of e-cigarettes are often moving away from traditional smoking methods and thus the devices cannot necessarily be seen as a gateway to trying the more damaging experience.
By Sara Watson