It’s just over a decade since e-cigarettes really first came to light, although the first electronic cigarette was invented many years before that. In recent years there’s been a huge surge in their popularity serving a wide range of vapers. So are we any clearer in knowing if electronic cigarettes are healthier than smoking?
History of the Electronic Cigarette
The initial design and invention were created by Herbert A Gilbert, who submitted a patent application in 1963. A number of prototypes were created but most were lost due to a warehouse fire. Production did not commence and the people he showed his prototypes to let the patents expire. The idea was presented to chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco companies but they did what they could to protect their market. He was ahead of his time.
The electronic cigarettes we see today were brought to market thanks to Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2003. Hon was a smoker and struggling to quit and had lost his father to lung cancer.
During 2001 while using high-dose nicotine patches to stop smoking, he came up with this idea for an electronic cigarette. He claims ‘In the evenings I sometimes forgot to take off my nicotine patch, which gave me nightmares all night.’ In one dream he found himself drowning in a sea that turned into a cloud of vapour, giving him inspiration for the electronic cigarette.
Hon spent time with various theories and had to overcome a number of challenges including size, nicotine dose and ingredients and odours. Eventually, he was able to scale down the design to a create a hand-held device resembling a cigarette.
Electronic cigarettes compared to traditional cigarettes
Traditional cigarettes/tobacco contribute to millions of deaths or associated deaths each year across the globe. Just one cigarette usually contains over 4000 chemicals which can be harmful and may cause cancer.
Electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco in the same form, instead, they use a base liquid which contains nicotine extracted from tobacco which is then heated to a vapour (which looks a bit like smoke) and inhaled. The liquids and subsequent vapour produced do not contain the same level of toxic chemicals as tobacco cigarettes. The levels found are so low that Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians estimate that e-cigarettes are ‘around 95% safer than smoking’.
In 2006 Dr Andy McEwen the executive director of the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training has said based on when we currently know, ‘e cigarette’s are far less harmful than cigarettes’.
In 2017 Cancer Research UK funded Scientists at University College London (UCL) made this statement http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0117/90217-e-cigarettes-safer-than-smoking
Scientists found that people who used e-cigarettes compared to those smoking traditional cigarettes had much lower levels of toxic and cancer-causing substances in their body compared to people smoking conventional cigarettes. The study was the first of its kind to analyse saliva and urine of e-cigarette users and smokers so they could compare the body’s exposure to the chemicals.
Dr Lion Shahab (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health), said “Our study adds to existing evidence showing that e-cigarettes and NRT are far safer than smoking, and suggests that there is a very low risk associated with their long-term use. We’ve shown that the levels of toxic chemicals in the body from e-cigarettes are considerably lower than suggested in previous studies using simulated experiments. This means some doubts about the safety of e-cigarettes may be wrong.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said: “This study adds to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are a much safer alternative to tobacco, and suggests the long-term effects of these products will be minimal. Understanding and communicating the benefits of nicotine replacements, such as e-cigarettes, is an important step towards reducing the number of tobacco-related deaths here in the UK.”
Another more recent study contradicts the study above. The University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study which found a presence of cancer-causing chemicals in e-cigarette users as well as people who smoked traditional cigarettes. Again, the study examined urine samples from people. Sixty-seven of them used e-cigarettes only, 17 used e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes, and 20 did not smoke or vape. Those who used both types of cigarettes showed levels of toxic compounds three times higher than those who only used e-cigarettes, who in turn showed levels of toxic compounds three times higher than the non-smokers.
Today, e-cigarettes haven’t been thoroughly evaluated in enough scientific studies. There is currently not enough data on how safe e-cigarettes are compared to traditional cigarettes. There is proof that e cigarettes certainly are helpful for people who wish to stop smoking.
There appears to be an apparent lack of context to these studies. It’s one thing to study results from TPD compliant e-liquid use, and another to study the use of liquids that have not been registered for TPD and are therefore unregulated.
Liquids containing nicotine have to be registered for the European TPD and approved via submission of analysis and subsequent data sheets. A TPD product should give users reassurance that all the necessary current testing protocols and quality requirements are in place.
At the present moment, any e-liquid that doesn’t contain nicotine does not have to be registered for TPD, so there is no control over the quality, the permitted ingredients and no data or toxicity level testing.
We accept many discerning manufacturers will have their own due diligence in place, but there will be others that do not. Sub-Ohm vapers may be particularly exposed to unregulated liquids because they tend to inhale more vapour which means they’re inhaling a greater amount of flavourings and whatever is in those flavourings. That’s one of the reasons we’re not currently stocking ‘shortfills’, because they are not a TPD-compliant product.