Are e-cigarettes really healthier than smoking?
With the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping on the rise, health authorities warn people not to be fooled into thinking they're a "healthy" alternative.
E-cigarette use is on the rise in Australia and New Zealand, with many smokers swapping tobacco cigarettes for e-cigarettes in an effort to avoid harmful chemicals.
But is this a good thing for the health of the nation or is it all just a marketing con?
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery operated devices that are designed to mimic smoking by emitting an aerosol (or vapour). They typically contain propylene glycol or glycerol, and some contain nicotine.
Are e-cigarettes safer than tobacco smoking?
There is very little evidence that e-cigarettes are safer, or have any effectiveness in helping people quit tobacco.
Bupa Australia’s head of Public Health Dr Zoe Wainer says:
“People may believe e-cigarette use is safer and healthier due to the absence of tar produced in conventional cigarette smoking. However, there is evidence that chemicals, particulate matter and metals are found in e-cigarette liquids at levels that also have the potential to cause toxicity and negative health effects when inhaled as vapour.
"These can include increased risk of oral cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory problems. And we as a community must be mindful of the negative impact of normalising smoking.”
Australian health authorities are also concerned that the public perception of health benefits may re-normalise smoking and actually deter people from quitting smoking altogether for better health.
San Francisco recently became the first major city in America to ban the sale of e-cigarettes, going as far as extending the ban to prohibit online retailers from delivering e-cigarettes to San Francisco addresses.
That decision is particularly interesting as the city is home to Juul Labs, the most popular e-cigarette producer in the US.
Juul is now fighting the ban, reportedly forking out $1.5 million US to assist efforts to overturn the decision.
There has also been research that suggests daily e-cigarette use is independently associated with significantly higher odds of poor oral health and dental problems that require attention by a health professional.
As e-cigarettes are relatively new it means that there is not enough data available to determine the long-term health effects. Products delivering chemicals directly to the lung are only approved after extensive evaluation on safety and efficacy. E-cigarettes currently on the market in Australia have not passed through this process and have not been proven safe to use.
E-cigarettes attracting non-smokers
There are also fears that e-cigarettes may even attract people who would otherwise avoid cigarettes, and could become the gateway drug for a new generation of tobacco smokers.
This concern was backed up by a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found young non-smokers who started smoking e-cigarettes were more likely to start cigarette smoking within two years.
The Cancer Council confirms that studies have found e-cigarette users were three times more likely than non-e-cigarette users to take up tobacco smoking. The Cancer Council has also expressed concerns over the products’ short and long-term health effects.
TGA issue e-cigarette warning
While e-cigarettes are generally used to simulate the act of cigarette smoking, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not approved any e-cigarette products as a smoking cessation aid. Whereas TGA-approved cessation aids include patches, gum, lozenges, mouth spray and inhalators, which the TGA has found these products to be safe and can help increase a person’s chances of quitting smoking.
In fact, the TGA issued a warning in January about the potential risks of purchasing electronic cigarette liquid. This advice stemmed from a study which found undisclosed and potentially harmful ingredients in electronic cigarette liquid being sold in Australia, including nicotine and traces of other chemicals, in liquid that claimed to be 'nicotine-free’.
While these products are sometimes promoted as an option to help people quit smoking, the evidence for electronic cigarettes in smoking cessation is mixed. There are also concerns from Europe and the USA that significant use of nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes by adolescents can lead to longer-term cigarette smoking.
Tips for quitting smoking
We know that every cigarette is doing you damage, so it’s important that those who have decided to quit have the best chances of staying smoke free.
If you are thinking of quitting, talk to your GP about options available and suitable for you. This can include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which can help by reducing your nicotine cravings to increase your chances of quitting. NRT is available on prescription or over-the-counter at pharmacies as nicotine gum, patches, tablets, lozenges or inhalers.
You can also talk to your pharmacist for more information about these products and how they could help you.
Depending on your Bupa extras cover, you may be able to claim a benefit for (NRT) on our Health Management extras service.
Bupa’s Health Link also has a range of great articles to help you quit smoking.
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