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Beware electronic cigarettes

I refer to the article Warning On Electronic Cigarettes (June 22).

The Environment Health Directorate said that the promotion of this product was on the increase. This is happening in the UK too and they are absolutely right to note that their safety has not yet been established.

I first became interested in electronic cigarettes when I travelled on a Ryanair flight to Brussels from Prestwick in Scotland. These were being sold as safe on that flight. I asked to see a packet of cigarettes being sold and noted the information on nicotine and the fact that they were manufactured in Gibraltar.

It must be remembered that anything inhaled must be exhaled and if you are within a certain air space that is passed on to you.

A few months later, I was in Malta and went to the reference library in Valletta to research on a completely different topic as I have been doing since 2008. Quite out of the blue, I came across an article in The Times, dated April 16, 2010 entitled Smokeless Tobacco Use Rising Among Teens, by Donna Smith.

The article said that the source of such influence could be major league baseball players. Experts were worried about the growing use of smokeless tobacco influencing young people to take up the cancer-causing habit. At the time there had been a reversing trend in the decline in the use of tobacco products by teenagers. Terry Pechacek, of the Centre For Disease Control and Prevention, told the US Congressional panel: “Across the nation we are seeing an uptake”.

Health experts say smokeless tobacco can cause cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and pancreas. The concern was that people would perceive smokeless tobacco to be safer than cigarettes.

My interest increased and, consequently, followed this up.

The World Health Organisation, in a report in March 2010, indicated that the safety and extent of nicotine take up from ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) have not been established and that is still the case today.

Research showed that electronic cigarettes produce a fine mist that is absorbed in the lungs (contrary, as you will be aware, to the physiology of the lungs, which is the interchange of gasses, that is oxygen).

It was immediately evident that this was not to be good for one’s health (www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2008/pr34/en/index.html).

The Department of Health in London, replying to my concerns, sent a reply explaining its stand on the matter. They said: “Currently, there is not enough evidence to suggest e-cigarettes are safe, effective or produced to any standards of quality”.

They went on to say that “there are indeed dangers associated with smokeless tobacco’’ and that “the Department is clear on this message in England’’.

That was September 2011.

A letter dated October 13, 2011 from the Scottish Government Tobacco Control Team noted that “Given the lack of evidence, the Scottish government is unable to endorse or recommend the use of e-cigarettes on safety and efficacy”.

A national newspaper reported that an electronic cigarette blew up in a smoker’s mouth in Niceville, Florida and the smoker lost all his teeth.The batteries in the cigarette ignited. Red hot flying debris also set fire to the study of his home. The 57-year-old was rushed to hospital with part of his tongue missing.

This came as no surprise to me, especially as further investigations I conducted demonstrated that fluid in cartridges leaked out of most e-cigarettes. It is difficult to assemble or disassemble ENDS without touching nicotine containing fluilds.

The conclusion was a design flaw and concerns of quality control. A report by P. Talbot of the University of California went on to say that health issues indicate that regulators should consider removing ENDS from the market until their safety can be adequately evaluated.

Obviously, the Maltese health authorities are right to point out their unproven safety.

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