E-cigarettes have been proposed as a way by which smokers can be weaned from smoking real cigarettes that carry unusual amounts of toxins that can prove to be cancerous pre-cursors. The World Health Organization (WHO) banned e-cigarettes last week indoors in public places and work areas, saying that there is no evidence available to support the supposed health benefits of e-cigarettes. To make matters worse, the over 8,000 flavors of e-cigarettes available (fruit, alcoholic, etc.) serve to encourage children to smoke. Researchers are concerned about e-cigarettes serving as an impetus and encouragement for smoking in children.
“We do want to be sure that any benefits they [e-cigarettes] may have don’t undo all the hard work that’s been done over decades to save lives by reducing smoking. We are particularly concerned that ‘vaping’ may lead to young people starting to smoke cigarettes,” said Faculty of Public Health President Dr. John Ashton. Ashton’s Faculty of Public Health agrees with the WHO regarding e-cigarettes and says that the concern is the harm that can be done if young people start to smoke cigarettes.
And yet, there are researchers who say that WHO and like-minded researchers are “alarmist,” preventing e-cigarettes from reaching the consumer public when the electronic cigarettes could only help save lives. “I think any responsible regulator proposing restricting regulation has to balance reducing risks with reducing potential benefits. In this case, the risks are unlikely, some already proven not to exist, while the benefits are potentially enormous. It really could be a revolutionary intervention in public health if smokers switched from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes,” said lead e-cigarette researcher Dr. Peter Hajek.
Hajek compared the response of the WHO and other researchers who disapprove of e-cigarettes to someone who warns against using smartphones and tablets because there is a 1 in 10 million chance that the battery in the device may explode. In other words, the risk is there, but small, so why forbid what could do more good than harm because of the slight chance of harm?
There are some who say that the WHO and criticism advocates issue with e-cigarettes can be addressed: mandate that only adults age 18 and older can use e-cigarettes. At the same time, however, researchers are concerned because e-cigarettes, while possessing some small amount of liquid nicotine, is made up of mostly water vapour – something that children are not banned from ingesting.
And, next to the small liquid nicotine available, it is still real nicotine – not some watered-down version. Which means that children can still get hooked. To critics, allowing children access to e-cigarettes (or making them publicly available) is nothing short of a mother who lets her child take 4 or 5 puffs (or less) of a real nicotine cigarette each day. While it may not be enough to get the child hooked, growing up over 10 years having taken a few puffs of a parent’s cigarette each day could be enough to get the child hooked early on. And, at some point, the child could decide to “increase the thrill” and ditch e-cigarettes for the real thing.
While it has been stated that 6,000 lives a year could be saved if e-cigarettes were promoted, critics say that 6,000 lives, compared to the number of children that could become addicted to nicotine over a lifetime, is small indeed. In the end, say critics, if e-cigarette proponents are looking for a smoking gun that will win critics to their side, it should involve saving more lives than a mere “6,000.”