Should we? Shouldn’t we?
E cigarettes deliver nicotine in the absence of the tobacco. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates six million people die each year from the effects of tobacco. 80,000 deaths in England occur annually through cancers, heart and lung diseases related to tobacco smoking. Nicotine is however a highly addictive psychoactive drug and there is concern that e cigarettes may re-normalise smoking and that they have not been around long enough for any long term risk assessment.
The burning of tobacco produces toxins which cause harm to the body. They also generate smoke and therefore cause secondhand smoking related harm. E cigarettes do not generate toxins and the vapour exhaled does not contain secondhand smoke and is probably much less, if at all, harmful to bystanders.
Vapour from e cigarettes is usually formed of nicotine, flavourings, glycerol and propylene glycol. The latter is generally recognised as safe. Carcinogens in this vapour fall below safety limits for occupational exposure and are mostly absent compared with cigarette smoking.
They are regulated under the EU Tobacco Products Directive or as medical products with licensing from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). None are as yet available on prescriptions but e cigarettes can safely be combined with over the counter nicotine replacement therapy such as patches to help people stop smoking cigarettes. Probably even more effective is medication available on prescription only; champix or zyban combined with counselling.