Are e-cigarettes safe: the debate continues

With the start of the new year, many of us are starting to think about improving our health. And among those resolutions, for a lot of people, will be to quit smoking. E-cigarettes are slowly becoming a very popular choice for quitters; but, with so much conflicting evidence about their safety, are they really the best choice?

In the last ten years, since e-cigarettes have become more mainstream, there’s been thousands of studies carried out into their risks and benefits. Last year, the potential consequences of vaping were looked at even more, in particular, into how it will affect young people, and will it lead to higher rates of teen smoking? Concerns have been raised that we could be encouraging young people to use nicotine.

In the US, one study carried out last year came to the conclusion that there’s “substantial evidence that e-cigarette use increases the risk of ever using combustible tobacco cigarettes among youth and young adults”. The official advice from the CDC supports this argument. A statement on their website says: “E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

However, the health authorities in the UK have taken a different stance on vaping. A review carried out by Public Health England came to the conclusion: “E-cigarettes are attracting very few young people who have never smoked into regular use, and e-cigarettes do not appear to be undermining the long-term decline in cigarette smoking in the UK among young people.”

Furthermore, the way that nicotine is regulated varies between the UK and the US. For instance, in the UK, nicotine is not regarded as a harmful substance on its own, and regulations claim that it’s nicotine itself that’s harmful. This means that NRT is licensed for all adults and children over the age of 12. However, in the US, health organisations believe that nicotine is harmful on its own, as it can affect brain development in children.

This is one of the factors that affect the regulations on e-cigarettes. Whether nicotine is harmful or not is still being debated. And even if it is, most studies agree that e-cigarettes a far less damaging than regular cigarettes. They can lead to higher quit rates, and as a harm reduction tool, they are very effective. But, the future of e-cigarettes is uncertain still, with many countries still acting with caution. How they will be treated in the future is still unclear.

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