Are e-cig health claims all smoke and mirrors?

They come in all shapes and sizes, varying in colour and strength of nicotine, there's no question that Electronic Cigarettes are everywhere.

Sunday, 10th April 2016, 6:00 pm

The use of e-Cigs, also known as ‘vaping,’ has rocketed but it is not currently banned in public places like tobacco smoking is.

Fans of electronic devices, including the many shops that have opened up selling them, say that they help smokers to kick the habit and are a good way of improving public health.

But some non-smokers disagree as they say that they have a right to go places that are completely smoke free .

And some disagree that they help smokers to quit claiming that the vaping trend is encouraging a new generation of youngsters to start smoking.

Manager George Atkinson of The E-Cig shop which has shops in Dewsbury, Wakefield and Huddersfield said that there are many misconceptions when it comes to e-cigs.

He said: “There is a huge benefit to electronic cigarettes, all of our staff members see it on a day to day basis from an incredibly wide demographic, whether it be an elderly woman who’s been smoking for 50 years or a younger man who may only have been smoking for a few.

“There is no more satisfying feeling in this industry than that of when a person comes into the store and thanks us for providing them with the means of quitting smoking, and just how healthier they feel now.”

Mr Atkinson said that the only negatives that could arise from e-cigs are from user error by those buying such vapour-based products from non-specialist shops.

He said: “All our customers who are looking to acquire an electronic cigarette are taught by our staff how to use and maintain their device accordingly to avoid any problems.”

But buying your first electronic cigarette is a complex process according to Mr Atkinson. He said: “When the lives and health of the nation are at stake it breaks our hearts to hear that someone has had a negative experience and has since gone back to smoking, because we know that as a tobacco alternative, electronic cigarettes work.”

But what about non-smokers and those opposed to vaping?

E-cigs are not currently covered by tobacco laws and are classed as a consumer product so the content of each product can vary.

Research is still being carried out and possible laws are being debated as the long term health effects are largely unknown.

Recently the Welsh Assembly proposed a notion to ban the use of e-cigs in public places where children may be present for example in schools, restaurants, cafes and on public transport. But the proposed ban was defeated by one vote meaning that e-cigs are still legal in public places across the UK.

ASH, an organisation promoting a smoke-free society, estimates that in 2015 there were approximately 2.6 million e-cig users in Great Britain, an increase from 700,000 in 2010.

Such demand has seen a rise in e-cig vendors like that of new The E-Cig shops across West Yorkshire.

Manager Mr Atkinson said: “When it comes to the use of electronic cigarettes in public, I believe it is fully up to the discretion of the user to go out of his or her way in order to not make anyone feel uncomfortable, but at the same time I feel the exact same way about people who smoke cigarettes. It is all about user discretion.

“We would disagree with anyone who proposed that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to cigarettes.

“We provide people with the means to, and social support necessary, to quit.

“I believe the idea that electronic cigarettes lead to smoking are founded on incredibly biased studies that have since been proven false, there are several independent studies emerging in both the United States and the United Kingdom that support the ideas that electronic cigarettes are both less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes and that out of all nicotine replacement systems, they are the most successful for helping the user quit.”

As damaging as tobacco?

Smoking e-cigarettes may damage the lungs and throat more than traditional cigarettes and don’t help smokers to quit, studies have warned.

A study of Google search trends showed very few people were interested in finding out how vaping devices can help them kick their smoking habit, even though that is how the e-cigarettes are promoted.

It found a dramatic jump in the popularity of the words ‘vape’ and ‘vaping’ but a decline in interest in ‘vaping health’ and ‘smoking cessation’. And less than one per cent of 10 million Google e-cigarette searches in 2013 and 2014 focused on quitting smoking.

Dr Rebecca Williams, of North Carolina University, said: “The e-cigarette industry, the media and the vaping community have promoted the notion that e-cigarettes are an effective device for quitting smoking, yet what we’re seeing is that there are very few people searching for information about that. They are more commonly searching for terms like ‘buy,’ shop,’ or ‘sale’.” She added that only a “small and declining” percentage of Google searches for electronic nicotine delivery systems included terms related to quitting.

The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine follows research earlier this year which claimed e-cigarettes are having the opposite effect to stopping smoking.

It showed smokers who use them are actually 28 percent less likely to quit the real thing. Instead of burning tobacco, battery-powered e-cigarettes generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine and other chemicals. But a new study suggests that vaping can actually “compromise” airways more than tobacco.

More and more people are using electronic cigarettes under the assumption they are not as harmful as traditional cigarettes. And the US Food and Drug Administration classifies many liquid flavourings in e-cigarettes as “Generally Recognised as Safe.”

But researchers have pointed out that the classification is based on oral consumption and that most flavourings have not been tested for their effects on the respiratory system.

Professor Ilona Jaspers, who led the study, said: “The digestive systems and respiratory systems are very different. Our stomachs are full of acids and enzymes that break down food and deal with chemicals; this environment is very different than our respiratory systems. We simply don’t know what effects, if any, e-cigarettes have on our lungs.”

In another separate experiment, scientists at the same lab examined the effects of the chemical that makes an e-cigarette taste like cinnamon.

Professor Jaspers said: “The chemicals compromise the immune function of key respiratory immune cells.”

Researchers hope to now look to find out if long-term exposure to e-cigarettes has immune suppressive effects on the respiratory system in smokers. This would be a sign e-cigarettes are not as safe as believed and advertised.