Electronic cigarettes have ignited international debate over their health effects, after New Zealand researchers ruled the battery-powered inventions were safe.
The cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, are at the centre of a legal battle in the United States, with the Food and Drug Administration attempting to ban them from being imported into the country over safety concerns. Greek researchers have also called for more studies, saying in the British Medical Journal the information available is “very limited”.
Meanwhile, a local anti-smoking group is hesitant to praise the new cigarettes, saying more research is needed and they do not encourage anti-smoking behaviour.
However, Kiwi researcher Dr Murray Laugesen said concerns about safety were unfounded.
Last year, Laugesen conducted in-depth research for Health New Zealand on one brand of e-cigarette, Ruyan, and said he found nothing to be “immediately concerned about”.
The stainless-steel devices look and taste like cigarettes – even giving users a ‘hit’ of fine vapour – with the aim of enticing people to quit the habit.
They are available over the internet and in some supermarkets, are rechargeable, and come either as nicotine-free or with a small amount of nicotine.
Even e-cigarettes which contained a small amount of nicotine were relatively safe, said Laugesen. There was about one-tenth as much nicotine per puff compared to a normal cigarette.
“Basically, in all the testing that we did we did not find anything that would make them unsafe relative to other tobacco products,” said Laugesen.
“Anybody can see they are much safer than tobacco and other regular cigarette products.”
In New Zealand, the nicotine-free Elusion Electronic Cigarette brand is being heavily marketed and consists of a liquid cartridge, battery and a heating element.
Packets can be bought with apple, chocolate, vanilla or coffee flavoured cartridges, with a starter pack costing $89.50.
The Ruyan E-Cigarette, which contains a small amount of nicotine, sells online for about US$25 to US$48 ($35 to $67.50).
Anti-smoking group Quit said it was hesitant to take a position on the safety of e-cigarettes as more research was needed. “The strength of e-cigarettes is that they provide nicotine without the thousands of damaging chemicals found in cigarettes and tobacco, which is certainly a good thing,” said a spokesman.
“Our concern is that, at face value, they appear to reinforce the behaviour of having a cigarette. It’s reinforcing the wrong habit and potentially without addressing the addiction.
“We need to de-normalise smoking and e-cigarettes seem to role-model the wrong behaviour.”
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