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Electronic cigarettes - a looming health crisis?

As a recent study highlights the health risks linked to the use of electronic cigarettes Gene Matthews and Nancy Williams, of Leigh Day’s product safety and consumer law team, discuss the need for more knowledge of the long-term health implications

Electronic cigarette
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Gene Matthews (pictured) is the lead partner in the clinical trials team at Leigh Day where he is assisted by paralegal Nancy Williams.
The popularity of electronic cigarettes, commonly known as e-cigarettes, has become a global trend and is one that looks set to continue.  However, the safety of e-cigarettes remains uncertain.  

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.  In contrast, at the same time, the World Health Organisation 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.

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.  The product was released into the European and American markets in 2006.  

In recent years, the use of e-cigarettes has increased exponentially.  A recent report by Ernst & Young LLP titled 'Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS): an update on a rapidly evolving vapour market' revealed that 2.2 million British people use e-cigarettes and one person switches to e-cigarettes every four minutes.  

The existing clinical studies surrounding e-cigarettes have displayed a spectrum of results.

On the one hand, 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.  

Conversely, the findings of a 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.  

This is not a novel finding, studies published last year have also showed that e-cigarettes may cause vascular changes after short term exposure to e-cigarette vapour - as reported in the Atherosclerosis journal.  Specifically, a study by researchers from West Virginia University showed prolonged exposure to e-cigarettes can be linked to aortic stiffness.

It is apparent that there is no conclusive evidence indicating the long-term effects of e-cigarette use.  What is clear is that with the increasing influence of these products, more knowledge about the long-term health implications is crucial to avoid the possibility of an unprecedented health crisis on the horizon. 

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