There’s a lot of talk about e-cigarettes these days.

Hi, I’m Doctor Joe.

It’s almost from the ‘what would they think of next category’, that as smoking rates have been declining in Western countries for the last 50 years, and in fact have hit record lows in the USA and Australia, that we now have these new devices which are called e-cigarettes.

Now immediately one sort of thinks, “Well, what is their role?” And in this video we can’t go across everything and I would like to point out that the jury is very much out about whether they are helpful for getting people who smoke to stop smoking or whether they’re going to be a lead for people who don’t smoke to perhaps start smoking. And there’s a lot of arguments on both sides.

Right, first thing to say with these e-cigarettes is that there are two different types. There are those that have nicotine and they are I suppose in some respects a replacement for cigarettes and certainly anecdotally there are a lot of smokers who have said that they have gone from cigarettes to these other ones and they’ve found it beneficial.

What we know so far -and again these are fairly new so there’s more research to be done- is that e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes. So for people who do smoke, to go across to e-cigarettes means yes, you’re getting nicotine but you’re not getting a lot of the other carcinogens that are in normal cigarettes. So to that extent it may be a benefit. And there are a number of smokers who have said and there is some research to support this, that it may be more helpful than other stop-smoking aids.

However the counter view says that the idea of smoking is becoming less acceptable in society and I think we know that in Australia and certainly in the US and in the UK, a little bit less so in some European and Asian countries. And that the idea of these e-cigarettes normalises smoking again because, you know, it becomes again socially acceptable to have something in your mouth that you’re puffing on.

Again, there are studies to suggest that it may be a gateway but the jury remains out.

Certainly there are concerns about use of non-nicotine e-cigarettes for children and a lot of these have fruity type flavours and pretty colours. One of the theories is that if children and teenagers in particular start using these that they might be a pathway to cigarette smoking. There is the counter view that says, “Well if they’re doing that, they want to have something in their hands, they want to look cool and it’s relatively harmless compared to smoking cigarettes.”

Again, lots of opinions, not really clear what the direction’s going to be.

I think it’s important to say that from the view of secondhand smoke, certainly the e-cigarettes are preferable to regular cigarettes, and we’re talking again about ones with nicotine because you’re not puffing a lot of smoke into the atmosphere.

So bottom line, at this stage, I suppose where we’re at in terms of both the science and in terms of the regulations as well, there’s a bit of catch up being played. Exactly how it will turn out in the future we don’t quite know and there’s a lot of speculation. Certainly it’s not something to be encouraged in teenagers and the ideas about marketing of these products is something that regulators will have to look at.

In terms of helping cigarette smokers to stop, that appears to be something that does occur and it may be useful for those people. Again, how it’s best regulated, how it’s best obtained, you know, these are matters to sort out. At the moment though the jury does remain out and I’ve said this a lot of times, but it’s an important point and you will hear a lot of contradictory information.

Certainly we do know that e-cigarettes for smokers are safer than existing cigarettes and that’s certainly the consensus at the moment. But not a good idea for people who aren’t smoking to perhaps take that first step.

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For information on smoking, its effects and how to quit, visit Smoking.


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