E-cigarettes have become more and more popular in the last few years. They are now widely accessible, sold at gas stations as well as specialty stores and over the internet. It’s now common to see e-cigarettes being used both inside and outside restaurants and bars. They have been praised as quitting smoking aids and have been touted as harmless, yet there is a significant lack of research that has been conducted both on the short and long-term effects of e-cigarettes. Some also worry that even if the e-cigarettes themselves may be harmless, they may act as a gateway into the world of smoking for young people and non-smokers.
E-cigarettes, in their most basic form, contain cartridges filled with nicotine, which is turned into a vapour that can be inhaled by the smoker. The devices can satisfy nicotine cravings without involving tobacco, and are often available with fun flavourings that make the experience of using an e-cigarette even more attractive.
While the concept of the e-cigarette seems amazing, they are still a relatively new product that is not well understood. While some researchers are optimistic about e-cigarettes and their possible use as a stop-smoking aid, some studies that have emerged have pointed to some adverse health effects associated with e-cigarette use. These include increased airway resistance and a reduced ability to cough, which can increase a person’s risk of choking and can allow infectious agents to stay inside the throat. The products used to flavour the vapour in e-cigarettes may also have adverse side effects – hot cinnamon candies, banana pudding, and menthol tobacco were found to have a negative affect on the lungs, while other flavours were less harmful. The nicotine in the e-cigarettes, when not treated properly, has also been linked to nausea, vomiting and eye irritation.
The preliminary studies performed on e-cigarettes have had mixed results, and it’s clear that more research needs to be done on their safety and effectiveness so that both short- and long-term effects of their use can be better understood. The problem right now is that e-cigarettes are widely available with Health Canada silent on their regulation. Concern over these products have caused provinces and cities to take matters into their own hands: Ontario now treats e-cigarettes like tobacco products, prohibiting their sale to minors, restricting their promotion and requiring that they not be used in non-smoking areas. Vancouver limits e-cigarette use in public spaces, and Nova Scotians cannot use e-cigarettes in indoor public spaces, and they cannot purchase an e-cigarette if they are under 19.
This new legislation is already being fought by the e-cigarette industry, and Health Canada’s continued silence is perturbing. Slow regulation and conflicting evidence was to the benefit of big tobacco in the 20th century – could we be observing a similar trend with e-cigarettes today? If you are concerned about the lack of information available on e-cigarettes and agree with provinces and municipalities that have restricted their use and sale, write to your representatives in government and ask that further research be performed and regulations be imposed on e-cigarettes.