Many countries, including the UAE, have banned electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes but a worldwide survey of 19,441 users in 2014 found it had minimal adverse effects (about 1/100th to 1/20th) compared with smoking. Those who switched to vaping from smoking reported a reduction in harmful effects, with very mild and temporary side effects.
The research findings, conducted by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, MD, Researcher from the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre, Athens and from the University of Patra, Greece, were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health last year.
Dr Farsalinos came out in support of vaping and told Gulf News: “I believe that you can help smokers use a less harmful alternative. The concerns about e-cigarette use by youngsters and being a gateway to smoking are invalid because a very small proportion of youngsters is using e-cigarettes (and the vast majority of them are smokers, so it would be a good thing to try e-cigarettes because they might quit smoking), while all studies are clearly showing that e-cigarettes are the gateway ‘from’ smoking, not ‘to’ smoking.”
Dr Farsalinos feels e-cigarettes are the best alternative for someone wanting to quit smoking as it not only plays a role in reduction of harm but also addresses the psycho-behavioural aspects of smoke dependence.
“E-cigarettes are a unique product in tobacco harm reduction because it addresses both the chemical (through delivery of nicotine) and the psycho-behavioural aspect of smoking dependence (by simulating smoking, using the same movements, producing visible vapour which looks like smoke, providing sensory stimulation). At the same time, there is no tobacco and no combustion. Knowing that people smoke for nicotine but die from the combustion products, it is obvious that e-cigarettes will result in a public health benefit by substituting the experience perceived by smokers from smoking with the use of a significantly less harmful product. Therefore, we urge politicians and regulators to act immediately by asking experts to provide them with a balanced and comprehensive overview of the currently available evidence, because all decisions should be science-based and oriented towards public health benefit rather than harm.”
Why the World Health Organisation (WHO) is not convinced?
The WHO remains unconvinced of the harm reduction aspect of e-smoking and thinks youngsters who have had no experience of smoking might indirectly get hooked on nicotine through vaping products if it approved e cigarettes. Therefore, it has a clear stand about not endorsing it.
The WHO continues to remain cautious about e-cigarette sales as it feels the product was introduced only in 2006 and the medical evidence on its long-term harms is still inconclusive as research continues. It recommends the regulation of e-cigarettes and refuses to give it an all clear.
At the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC COP6) held in 2014, parties emphasised the fact that smokeless tobacco products posed a genuine and fast-growing public health problem and they felt that smokeless products like e-cigarettes needed a regulation as strong as that on cigarettes and other tobacco products because these were being endorsed by tobacco companies and made attractive to the younger generation.
Why UAE continues with the ban on e-cigarettes
A UAE private doctor who has worked closely in the Ministry of Health’s anti-tobacco campaigns explained why the ministry would never allow the legal sale of e-cigarettes: “The main reason why UAE wants to support the tough stand taken by the WHO against ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) is probably because it is highly possible for a newcomer or a youngster to take up smoking. Nicotine has a role in neuro-degeneration and there is evidence of brain development problems in children and foetuses that have been exposed to nicotine. It is highly addictive and we don’t encourage the use of any form of nicotine for those who have never smoked or for children and pregnant women, and our report on e-cigarettes is consistent with this,” he said.
What vapers say
In the meanwhile many e-cigarette users in Dubai and other countries narrated their experience of how it helped them kick the habit.
In Dubai an expat who used to smoke between six-eight cigarettes switched to vaping about six months ago and is delighted that he was able to drastically cut down his smoking to about a couple of cigarettes in a month which he feels is a clean experience that is not offensive to anyone else and gives a healthy option to someone looking for harm reduction.
He feels if a person is determined to switch to vaping because he consciously wants to quit smoking then the transition becomes easier. “I had tried quitting a couple of times but would revert. Now I seem to have hit the spot. By vaping I don’t miss the ‘exhaling’ of “smoke” and its psychological hold over me and thus 90 per cent of the battle is won. I don’t believe I will be a slave to a cigarette any more….clearly not with a vape stick in my pocket,” he said.
Recounting the positive health benefits which he felt were tremendous he said: “My breathing is back to normal, I have had a drastic reduction in phlegm and issues of breathlessness. I wake up with ‘fresh breath’, my clothes don’t smell of tobacco.” His advise to smokers looking to quit the vaping way is: “If you can’t quit smoking or go cold turkey then switch to vaping, it will help you a great deal. Like in most western countries vaping should be made legal in the UAE including the right to advertise it. You can save the life and health of a chronic smoker and sale of cigarettes will drop in a big way. Most younger generation smokers in the West have now switched to vaping and cleaning up. It is a big relief that I don’t need to carry cigarettes and a lighter in my pocket any more and do not feel enslaved. Gone are the days of going out in the heat just to smoke a smelly cigarette and endure bad breath and heavy breathing!”
Lou Ritter, 53, from USA, said, “After 33 years smoking almost a pack of cigarettes per day I quit completely by using electronic cigarettes. On the first day when I used an electronic cigarette I smoked half as many tobacco cigarettes and was weaned off tobacco completely in one month. Physical stamina, endurance and breathing improved almost immediately and continue to improve. I feel stronger and healthier now than in my mid-thirties. I will never smoke tobacco again. “
Dimitris Manolas, 43, from Greece: “After smoking for 22 years, I was surprised to realise how easily I managed to quit smoking within 10 days after initiating e-cigarette use. Within days I felt my sense of smell and taste coming back. Right now, I cannot imagine myself going back to smoking. It would taste horrible.”