In July 2013 The Daily Mail reported that the first £1 electronic cigarette (or e-cigarette) went on sale in the UK. The e-smoking market is now worth over £2bn globally if estimation by Cannacord, the globally operating investment bank, are correct. A recent BBC article places the number of UK people now opting to use e-cigarettes at around 700,000. This figure is based on a survey carried out by health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Often called ‘vaping’ by users, e-smoking is on the rise with many substituting traditional tobacco cigarettes for this safer form of smoking. Some people also use e-cigarettes as a temporary weaning tool to help them stop smoking altogether, indeed a quarter of those attempting to quit in the UK use e-cigarettes.

Vaping

On average, each e-cigarette or vapouriser lasts for about 220 puffs, or the equivalent of a pack of 20 cigarettes. Available online from places like Eshishin, e-cigarettes come in a range of styles and flavours. Lemon, apple, strawberry, grape, menthol, blueberry and peach are all par for the course. An e-cigarette allows a user to smoke where traditional smoking may be banned. It can also be used for smoking a hookah or shisha, something that has fairly recently become a trendy UK pastime with specialist Turkish water-pipe bars and cafes cropping up across the country.

An electronic shisha or cigarette works by vapourising a liquid called propylene glycol. This process creates thick vapours that look like authentic smoke, but leave no scent. According to website How Stuff Works, an e-cigarette doesn’t contain the harmful chemicals associated with smoking tobacco cigarettes, such as carbon dioxide and tar. The e-cigs look very much like the traditional ones, but don’t contain any tobacco and require no lighting or flame. Instead the electronic cigarette, which was invented by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2003, is powered by battery.

Attempts have been made in Holland and Germany to officially classify e-cigarettes as a medicinal product, but none have so far been successful. Professor John Britton leads the tobacco advisory group for the Royal College of Physicians and spoke to the BBC about his belief that e-cigarettes are a positive thing. “If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize” he said.

However, recently calls have been made to regulate the e-cigarette market to ensure that the products being sold are effective and that users are kept safe. Questions are also being raised over the fact that the e-cigarettes can legally be sold to children and there are few restrictions on promotion and advertising. Some people fear that this is leading to a ‘re-glamourisation’ of smoking.

The voices calling for regulation aren’t looking to ban e-cigarettes. Most accept them as a preferable alternative to tobacco cigarettes, however they are asking for regulation to safe-guard quality. For example, there are calls to ensure the contents of each e-cig is fixed and about the purity of the nicotine used. There are also questions around whether ‘vaping’ should be permitted in pubs, clubs, on planes, and in workplaces.

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