They call it vaping and insist it’s not smoking.
It’s inhaling vapour, not smoke, and the indication is that it is healthier, or less dangerous, than the old style cigarettes and will help people quit tobacco.
The trouble is that there’s little evidence that it does help smokers quit and there is evidence that e-cigarettes are harmful.
Health experts say advertising claiming or suggesting that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices should be banned until claims are supported by scientific evidence.
And rather than a means of quitting, e-cigarettes are, according to the latest studies, a pathway or a starting point to nicotine addiction for teenagers.
Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education in the US says: “Despite claims that e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking, we found that e-cigarettes were associated with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents.”
And Dr Mitchell H. Katz, of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, wrote in March: “Unfortunately, the evidence on whether e-cigarettes help smokers to quit is contradictory and inconclusive.”
One study has found small amounts of six toxic substances in the vapor of several different e-cigarette brands. Scientists have also detected in the vapor low levels of cadmium, nickel and lead, which can trigger lung and throat inflammation.
This advertisement on the right from America shows e-cigarettes aren’t being positioned as a way to stop smoking. The marketing message is that electronic cigarettes are cool.
Some estimates put the e-cigarette market in the US at $750 million. And it’s booming, with the market heading toward $1.5 billion, even as regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration considering restrictions expected to be announced later this year.
Of the estimated 3 million smokers in Australia about 17% have tried vaping. Chat room AussieVapers.com has 7,446 members.
A recent Supreme Court decision in Western Australia confirms its unlawful to sell the electronic cigarette devices which heat liquid nicotine and turns it into vapour to be inhaled.
The vendor prosecuted, HeavenlyVapours, is expected to be sentenced within two weeks. Other states are watching carefully because most of them have similar laws preventing the sale of devices which look like cigarettes.
Roger Magnusson, Professor of Health Law and Governance at the University of Sydney, travels to the US a lot .
“The business case for e-cigarettes obviously involves introducing them to as wide a market as possible, including non-smokers and those who might have never otherwise experimented with either smoking or nicotine products,” he says.
“I teach in the US each year and get to compare the regulation of tobacco and e-cigarettes here and there.”
Blu (see its advertisement below) has been snapped up by established tobacco company R J Reynolds, the second-largest US tobacco company.
“If nicotine containing e-cigs could be lawfully sold in Australia, the big tobacco players would rationalize the market pretty quickly,” Professor Magnusson says.
Regulators need to think long and hard about the wisdom of authorising the creation of new markets for recreational nicotine.
Professor Magnusson says:
“The assumption that e-cigarettes will function only or mainly as stop-smoking devices is breathlessly naïve: the business case for e-cigarettes obviously involves introducing them to as wide a market as possible, including non-smokers and those who might have never otherwise experimented with either smoking or nicotine products.”
“US research suggests that these products are a gateway to smoking as often as a gateway from smoking,” he says.
“If they are such a great quit smoking device, they might nevertheless be made available to smokers on prescription. That would give smokers an alternative option, while minimizing the creation of a new market for recreational nicotine that may well lead to smoking addiction for many of those new initiates, a great many of whom will be adolescents and young people.
“The current ban on selling e-cigarettes, whether they contain nicotine or not, makes sense when you consider that tobacco control legislation prevents the sale of cigarette-shaped candies, chocolate cigarettes and toy cigarettes.
“The fact that e-cigarettes are supposed to be cool, and ‘e-cigarettes makes smoking cool again’, reinforces the public health benefits of ensuring these products do not become ubiquitous.”
Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, says advocates of vaping sanctimoniously taunt anyone unconvinced by their evangelism as callous “quit or die” moralists and point to the seemingly undeniable logic that “every cigarette forgone to vaping is harm reducing”.
“Discussion about e-cigarettes on social media, the blogosphere, and vaping chatrooms is dominated by impassioned accounts from former, now vaping, smokers wanting to encourage smokers to do what they have done,” Professor Chapman says.
“The early data on e-cigarettes show them to be as good as, or marginally better than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in helping smokers to stop. Which is sad to say that so far, they are about as unsuccessful as NRT for the great majority who use them.
“Hopefully, better and stronger data will emerge about newer innovations, but until then, their smoking cessation breakthrough status remains hype.”