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TECH: E-Cigarettes: There is Smoke Without Fire!
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The smoking of tobacco began in the Americas around 5000 B.C. whereby the indiginous people utilised the tobacco plant as part of many religious and medical rituals. It wasn't until Christopher Columbus' voyage to the Americas that the smoking of tobacco began to spread globally. After witnessing the pleasure which the natives received whilst smoking the leaves, many of the explorers became smokers themselves.

Upon returning to Europe, smoking as a social habit quickly became popular throughout all levels of society. It wasn't until the 1950s that health problems were finally linked to smoking. Lung cancer, heart disease and strokes were all eventually linked to smoking. With the evidence of harm mounting, governments around the world had no choice but to take actions, including banning advertising, restricting and banning smoking in places such as work, aeroplanes and eventually restaurants and pubs. Also, health warnings became mandatory in most territories. The World Health Organisation stated in recent reports that approximately 6 million people die due to tobacco related causes each year, with around 600,000 of these deaths due to second-hand or passive smoke. Despite these measures, Marlboro remains one of the most valued companies in the world.

At this point you may be asking why anyone would want to smoke. There are no simple answers to this question. Many smokers quote a feeling of relaxation and empowerment when smoking as their main motivation. Whatever the reason for starting,  it is stopping which causes the most trouble- mainly because of tobacco's addictive ingredient nicotine. To combat this, health organisations provide nicotine patches and gum to try and combat the cravings whilst smokers try to cut down and eventually quit smoking. Unfortunately many of them state that these quitting aids are just too different from the habit they are trying to stop to be effective. However, modern technology could have provided a viable alternative. This article will take a look at the E-cigarette and see if this could be the answer to the smoking epidemic. 

What are E-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes, have been around as a concept since a rudimentary version was created in the 60s, but it wasn't until recently, probably due to the continuing crack-down on smoking tobacco, that the e-cigarette became popular and commonplace as a smoking alternative.

E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco to produce smoke. Instead they vaporise a liquid (e-juice) to produce vapour. So it would technically be incorrect to describe yourself as smoking one of these devices; instead ‘vaping’ would be more accurate. E-juice contains a mixture of the following ingredients: liquid nicotine, propylene glycol- which is generally regarded as safe in moderation to humans, vegetable glycerine (a sugar alcohol) and/or polyethylene glycol 400 (this is thought to be low in toxicity). According to the manufacturers of these devices, as no combustion takes place, the toxins associated with combustion are absent from e-cigarette vapour. This is said to create a vapour which contains no carcinogens, is odourless and much safer than tobacco products. As this technology is not classified as a tobacco product in most countries, the components are not taxed as such, therefore they remain cheap to purchase, especially when compared to a comparative amount of traditional cigarettes.

There are a few designs of e-cigarettes, but most have three sections: a cartridge, an atomizer and a battery. In more recent designs the cartridge and atomizer are combined to create what they call a ‘cartomizer’ to make things even easier. When combined, these two or three parts are similar in size to actual cigarettes, but heavier due to the materials they are constructed of a combination of metal and plastic.

Cartridge -
This acts as a mouthpiece. It also holds the e-juice, the substance from which the smoke-like vapour is created. The cartridge can either be re-usable and topped up with fluid or disposable and discarded once the contained fluid is used.

Atomizer -
This vaporises the e-juice using an electronic filament. Cartomizers consolidate the cartridge and atomizer, which cuts down maintenance as less cleaning is required. Cartomizers also have a tendency to be disposable.

Battery -
A re-chargeable battery powers the entire mechanism. The LED is lit on the end when in use and a switch turns the power on when a drag is taken. These batteries are usually USB chargeable with mains adapters or separate charging cases available as extras.

altE-Cigarette in-use

Using an E-cigarette will be a very familiar experience to smokers. The act of dragging on the device is very similar, if not a bit more strained. When activated the vapour hits the back of your throat, just as you would expect. The quality of the experience at this point is completely dependent on the quality of the device and e-juice. Cheaper device users will be left wanting, with the vapour bearing very little resemblance to the taste of smoke. Premium devices may surprise you with their realism, but they are never going to be mistaken for the real thing; much like Quorn can trick you into thinking it is meat, the e-cigarette can be a realistic supplement for a traditional cigarette. As you exhale a smoke-like vapour is ejected and this creates a feeling of closure to the act which I believe would be missed had the vapour not been exhaled.

There is a huge wealth of information on these products from a thriving online community. They share deals, tips on getting the most out of their devices, which products to buy, what to avoid, custom modifications and reviews. The people on these forums are very enthusiastic and willing to answer questions and help out new users.

The Downsides

If this sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As usual, there are some downsides. Firstly, the quality of devices varies greatly. Whilst more reputable companies obviously put a great deal of time and thought into the construction, some cheaper alternatives are lacking in terms of build quality and usability. The half-life of devices varies wildly also. Some can last years with proper maintenance whilst some should be disposed of after a few uses.

The e-juice quality varies greatly also, and whilst most vendors explain what exactly is in the e-juice, some are vague and quite frankly could put anything in them they want. Some studies have found damaging substances in some e-juice tested. However, due to the limited testing carried out, the results are anything but definitive.

Nicotine is a main ingredient in e-juice and is known to be addictive. By switching to e-cigarettes, you are essentially swapping one addictive habit for another. Depending on the strength of nicotine you choose for the e-juice you could actually be ingesting as much, if not more, nicotine than a regular cigarette. Apart from its addictive properties not much is known about nicotine, although on its own it is not thought to be a carcinogen.   

Social smoking has become such an antisocial act that people using e-cigarettes receive the same feelings of contempt as normal smokers.. This has led to many pubs, shops, supermarkets banning their usage indoors, and some countries have even gone as far as banning them completely, labelling them as a poison.


The Future

Whilst the legalities of the e-cigarette may change in the future it seems that for now they are legal and more socially acceptable way of ingesting nicotine in most countries. However, as there haven’t been any long term or meaningful studies into the health effects of these devices, no health organisations feel comfortable supporting them as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. Some companies have even stopped advertising their products as quitting aids, but as a healthier alternative. As there is no governing body in charge of the quality of these products, potentially damaging chemicals could be used in them. To combat this, I would suggest that further research into these products must take place, and governments should take responsibility for ensuring that safe manufacturing standards are implemented to safeguard consumers.   

It is also apparent that a social stigma is attached to anything associated with smoking- rather than celebrating that people have switched to a healthier alternative in an attempt to quit. Many users report that they are forced to use their devices in smoking shelters at work and are treated with contempt when using their devices inside, which is still legal in most countries and harmless to others.

A problem I do believe needs to be addressed is the fact that all these different flavours and less harsh taste could appeal to children. Strict safegards need to be put in place to stop children from using these devices, as they are addictive and not regulated, so could be harmful. These problems are up to adults to decide whether the risks are worth it for them, but children are not mature enough to make this desision.

Whilst I don't see the e-cigarette as a miracle cure for smoking, it does appear to be a step in the right direction. As the nicotine is added, surely a course of descending strength nicotine e-cigarettes could be developed to wean hardcore smokers off their nicotine addiction. And as the act of using an e-cigarette is so similar to traditional smoking that should help with the psychological side of the addiction. If done properly this technology does have the potential to save millions of self imposed deaths a year worldwide.

By Stephen P. Ashton
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