A recent study by the British health campaigning charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) found that the number of people in that country who reported trying electronic cigarettes more than doubled, from 9 percent in 2010 to 22 percent in 2012.
Almost all the new users were people who already had smoked cigarettes and 40 percent of them hoped switching would free them from the usual hazards of smoking.
Those hazards include an increased risk of dying from cancer, mostly due to inhaling the tar and other toxins released by tobacco when it is burned.
But are electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, really safer than smoking?
“Nicotine, compared to tobacco smoke, is relatively benign. It is the addictive component of tobacco, of course, and that is what keeps people coming back to smoking, but the harm [in smoking] comes largely from the inhaling of tobacco smoke,” Sandford says.
“Nicotine itself, once it is isolated and extracted from tobacco and just used in its pure state, is relatively harmless.”
E-cigarettes, which are inhalers, use a small battery to heat a dose of liquid nicotine into mist. The mist also contains –
- Propylene glycol
And even a solvent for flavorings that are not very soluble on their own.
Sandford says it is still too early to know for certain the health effects of e-cigarettes because the products only arrived in Britain in quantity two to three years ago. Extensive medical testing still has to be done, leaving the door open to questions.
One question is whether people will smoke more e-cigarettes than they would conventional cigarettes because they believe they are safer, and what health risks the increased nicotine addiction might bring.
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