With increased warnings about the harmful effects of smoking tobacco, smokers are hoping e-cigarettes will help them quit. However, these 'alternative' cigarettes are not a safe substitute
Popular demand for electronic cigarettes has increased in recent years amid claims that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit. However, experts warn that e-cigarettes, which contain carcinogenic substances and cause serious health problems, are not as innocent as they look, in fact, they can be poisonous.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths and diseases in the world. Accordingly, various treatment methods including medicines and substitution products have been developed to help people quit by providing a nicotine-based alternative without the harmful effects of cigarettes.
Experts say that these modern alternatives and cessation aids are driven by economic interests and sold on the market without being medically tested or approved, and one such product is e-cigarettes.
The use of e-cigarettes has been growing recently amid claims that the device helps people quit smoking. However, the e-cigarette is an unsafe electronic device that provides nicotine to the user in a carrier system. Contrary to claims that it helps people quit smoking, experts say the e-cigarette is rather a tobacco product that functions like a water pipe, a tobacco pipe, a cigar and so on. Experts also emphasize that it is produced by the tobacco industry.
According to Yeşilay scientific board member Dr. Erkan Ceylan, the main target of the tobacco industry is young people and the e-cigarette is spreading so fast among them that it is a cause for major concern. Dr. Ceylan added that e-cigarettes contain addictive and carcinogenic substances.
"Electronic cigarettes contain chemical substances that have adverse effects on the respiratory system. Those who inhale these chemicals are passive smokers, as in the case of 'second-hand' smokers exposed to cigarettes. Also, e-cigarette users tend to switch to cigarettes and other tobacco products. It is crucial that advertisements which suggest it is good for health be banned on the internet and public figures launch campaigns to stop public support for the device," he said.
Ceylan said scientific studies and past experience show that those who use e-cigarettes also use regular cigarettes simultaneously.
"Most e-cigarette users also use regular cigarettes. They start smoking e-cigarettes with the aim of quitting smoking but they later resume smoking regular cigarettes. This may increase the risk of lung and cardiovascular diseases. E-cigarettes cause addiction and do not curb addiction as the makers claim. In addition, cartridges of e-cigarettes can cause nicotine leakage and result in skin exposure to excessive amounts of nicotine. This may even cause blood poisoning. Besides, e-cigarettes also have the potential to explode as they are an electric product," he said.
The e-cigarette has three parts: a battery, a syringe and a cartridge that contains nicotine. The amount of nicotine in a cartridge may vary but producers tend to increase this amount in order to make consumption of e-cigarettes more regular. Those products that have a high amount of nicotine, like 100 milligrams, can cause poisoning.
The cartridges also constitute a serious danger for children, pregnant women and the elderly when the liquid in cartridges comes in contact with the skin. No matter how much nicotine a cartridge has, the World Health Organization says all e-cigarette cartridges should be kept away from children and high-risk groups. On the other hand, a single cartridge contains the same amount of nicotine as between five and 30 regular cigarettes.
The production and importing of e-cigarettes is prohibited in Turkey. However, these devices can still be obtained illegally on the internet or through other electronic sources. E-cigarette sales in local shopping centers and on the internet are also easy to find by young people who spend most of their time on the computer. Shop owners can also easily access e-cigarettes.
In addition, electronic cigarettes are mentioned in Law No. 4207 on the Prevention of the Damage of Tobacco Products, but audits and standards are quite inadequate for handling this increasingly worrisome trend. This shows that health policies regarding tobacco control should be regulated in a way to reduce the potential risks that threaten public health to keep collateral damage at a minimum. Experts say that the tobacco industry should be prevented from normalizing the use of e-cigarettes amid their claims that e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes and the claim that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit.
Some e-cigarettes allow the user to change the cartridges which poses a serious hazard as it is possible to insert other addictive substances into the cartridge. Recent evaluations of synthetic cannabinoids by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) revealed that these substances have recently been found in liquid form and consumed in e-cigarette cartridges in Europe.
Dr. Ceylan said there is no statistical medical evidence that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking. Medical studies show that e-cigarettes do not diminish the desire to smoke. To the contrary, it is observed that e-cigarette users tend to smoke more normal cigarettes after using an e-cigarette. Even though it has been claimed that e-cigarettes are tobacco-free and only contain nicotine, it has been found that they actually contain tobacco products such as nor nicotine and myosin.
"E-cigarette smoke is as addictive as nicotine is found in cigars. In addition, because of the uncontrolled and high dosage of nicotine in these unregulated products, they have potentially deadly side effects on the gastrointestinal tract," Dr. Ceylan said.
"It has been found that the smoke of e-cigarettes contains glycerol, propylene glycol and nicotine as well as some metals such as acetaldehyde, acetone, formaldehyde, cadmium, lead, nickel, copper and tin. The nicotine in e-cigarette smoke causes addiction just like cigarette smoke. In addition, due to the excessive consumption of nicotine, side effects have been identified in the gastrointestinal system and other side effects include headaches, palpitations and mouth and skin disorders," Dr. Ceylan said.
Experts say that those who want to quit smoking can approach the process easily and effectively with the help of an expert. They also say that smokers can benefit from the website www.bırakabilirsin.org, launched within the scope of Yeşilay's campaign "Sigarayı Bırak, Hayatı Bırakma" (Quit Smoking, Not Life) in cooperation with Health Minister Recep Akdağ.
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