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There has been a lot of discussion on e-cigs and “Vaping” since it first appeared in 2007. Hailed as a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, or a means to quitting – but how safe are e-cigs?

Public Health England (PHE) has concluded that, on “the best estimate so far”, e-cigarettes are about 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes and could one day be dispensed as a licensed medicine in an alternative to anti-smoking products such as patches.

Prof Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE has said in a statement: “E-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking. One in two lifelong smokers dies from their addiction. All of the evidence suggests that the health risks posed by e-cigarettes are small by comparison,”

But common sense suggests we need more research into the long term effects of e-cigs, particularly as the tobacco companies fight for their share in this new market with new flavours and more sophisticated delivery systems. ( Yes – most e-gigs are produced and marketed by the big tobacco companies. ) Wasn’t traditional tobacco once thought to be safe until decades of smoking revealed the long-term health hazards?

The American FDA analyzed samples of two popular brands of e-cigarette and found traces of toxic chemicals including known carcinogens.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California found that the vapour produced by a popular brand of e-cigarette contained levels of certain toxic metals far greater than those found in the smoke of traditional cigarettes.

So perhaps its worth pointing out the “unknowns” before recommending your patients make the switch to e-cigs as a safer option to smoking. Although, it’s worth considering them as an aid to quitting smoking, with the aim of only targeted short term use, as PHE recommend.

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