While many studies have shown that e-cigarettes can help people give up smoking tobacco some researchers are reluctant to label e-cigarettes or vaping as safe due to a lack of available research on the long-term effects.
A recent article published by The Scientist claims that research has shown that whilst less harmful than tobacco, e-cigarettes are not without health risks. Electronic cigarettes are comprised of an electronic evaporator, or atomizer, that is powered by a battery that vaporizes a liquid. This liquid may contain nicotine and flavourings.
These products were first introduced into the European and American markets in 2006. According to an article in the Telegraph around 2.9 million people in Britain vape regularly and of these around 50 percent are former smokers who have now quit.
Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “Almost three million people in the UK now use e-cigarettes, but there are still significant gaps in the research guiding their regulation and sale.
We want to understand where the gaps are in the evidence base, the impact of the regulations, and the implications of this growing industry on NHS costs and the UK's public finances."
Due to the relatively recent popularity of e-cigarette and vaping products little is known about the long-term effects of these product on lung and heart health. However, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, found in a small clinical trial that e-cigarettes with nicotine stiffen users’ arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
The leader of the study, Magnus Ludbac, told The Scientist: “The take-home message, is that you need to see what happens in the human body before you say anything about this [e-cigarettes].”
Additionally, the findings of another study on the effects of e-cigarette use on cardiovascular ageing published by the American Physiological Society in August this year indicated that long-standing exposure to e-cigarette vapour could have an adverse effect on cardiovascular function.
The World Health Organisation has expressed caution concerning the safety of e-cigarettes and requested further research so that a clearer picture of the long-term effects can be drawn.
Nevertheless, E-cigarettes have been positively endorsed by Public Health England which published a report in 2015 titled 'E-cigarettes: an evidence update' claiming that vaping is around 95% safer than smoking tobacco.
Findings of a recent research study on long-term e-cigarette and nicotine replacement therapy use, funded by Cancer Research UK, demonstrated that users of e-cigarettes had considerably lower levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens in their bodies than smokers of tobacco cigarettes.
Accordingly, diseases such as lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease which are linked to the toxicity of cigarette smoke are likely to be avoided.
Gene Matthews, partner in Leigh Day’s product safety and consumer law team, said:
“I welcome this inquiry by the government to uncover more evidence about the use and impact of e-cigarettes. While e-cigarettes seem to be a useful aid to quitting tobacco smoking for many, the long-term effects on health are still unclear and it is crucial that more research is undertaken to ensure that these products are safe or at least that the associated health risks are properly understood.
"This is even more crucial for the large number of people who are taking up vaping but who were not previously tobacco smokers. It is important that people understand the risks that they may be taking with their health and that there is appropriate regulation of the promotion and sale of these products ”.