Since its release 6 years ago, the electronic cigarette has been hailed as the miracle cure for tobacco smokers who want to quit the habit. It’s proved to be extremely effective and appears to work for those smokers who tried and failed to quit using nicotine patches and other nicotine replacement therapies. However, it’s worth noting at the outset that manufacturers of smokeless cigarettes have never claimed that these products would help smokers to quit: only those who had the desire and willpower would ever successfully beat the habit. Electronic cigarettes were only sold as ‘safer smoking’ devices.
They claim to be safer because they do not contain any of the toxic chemicals normally found in tobacco and they are also non-combustible. Smokeless cigarettes only contain nicotine, propylene glycol, water and a flavouring agent. However, because these products are unlicensed there have been calls for the product to be withdrawn from sale until extensive independent investigation about the safety of the product is undertaken. So just how safe are electronic cigarettes, and are there any known side effects if you smoke them?
All of the ingredients in smokeless cigarettes, other than nicotine, are present in a variety of food and pharmaceutical products. In fact, propylene glycol has been used since the 1950s in asthma inhalers, as a compound that retains water. Smokeless cigarettes use the compound to help turn the water, nicotine, and flavouring into a vapour that you can inhale just like tobacco smoke. Nicotine is a natural product and is found in many of the foods we regularly consume. The Royal College of Surgeons has gone on record as saying that nicotine as a compound, although addictive, is no more harmful than caffeine when consumed in normal doses.
A two year controlled study has also shown that nicotine alone does not have any deleterious effects on health. In the study, rats were subjected to an amount of nicotine equal to twice the amount found in the bloodstreams of heavy smokers. The research demonstrated that there was no evidence of increased mortality, the formation of tumors, or atherosclerosis during the trials. The only thing it did show was that the weight of the rats did decrease as a result of the exposure to nicotine.
However, if too much nicotine is consumed by the body there can be side effects. That in itself is no different than many other products. Consuming too much nicotine can cause side effects like irregular heartbeats, diarrhoea, nausea, headache, dizziness, and fainting, though the severity of any side effects will depend on the user’s tolerance to nicotine. Medical advice is that ex-smokers, who switch to electronic cigarettes for their nicotine fix, should not use the product any more regularly than they would have done if they had continued to smoke tobacco.