Electronic cigarettes: a filterless reflection

by Claudio Tamburrino - 2013.02.05
Electronic cigarettes: a filterless reflection
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They are increasing everywhere. You can see them in the streets or in restaurants, bars, train stations and public places. They are around with no limits nor bans. And above all, with no fear nor shame. They are among us and keep in their hands some weird devices through which vapour is pleasantly emitted. It’s electronic cigarette users.

Between fashion, palliative, hi-tech solution and an atavic addiction problem, e-cigarettes  have spread so rapidly that legislation had no time to study this new product and now struggle to cope with.

With e-cigs, users inspire through an electronic system that triggers a sensor connected to a battery condenser; this latter gets warm and mixes an adjustable quantity of  water vapour with nicotine and glycerol particles.

To cut a long story short, e-cigs are nothing but aromatic vaporizers with nicotine or other flavours, don’t smell bad and give users the same sensation as real cigarettes’.

That of e-cigs is a real market that only in 2012 returned €300 million, and according to analysts is likely to reach a billion dollars in the next three years.

After all, this phenomenon gained ground also in Europe. For instance, in Italy, this market has 400 thousand users, is valued 100 to 200 million Euros (without considering top-ups, an e-cig costs from 20 to 100 Euros) and aims to 1 billion consumers by the end of the year; there are 7-8 manufacturing firms, 1,500 shops and 5,000 agents between production and marketing; in Germany, e-cigs users are already 2 million, in Greece 400 thousand.

On the one side, electronic cigarettes have undoubtedly some advantages; they don’t smell bad, they certainly reduce urban degradation (as traditional cigarettes are no longer consumed and thrown to the ground), they don’t contain the 5,000 harmful substances as in common cigarettes, nor monoxide, and have no carcinogenic effects related to tar and paper combustion.

On the other, they are not always completely nicotine-free and operators themselves affirm they don’t help you stop smoking, but rather change the way you do it. Finally, despite the increasing number of ‘scientific references’ supporting their reduced dangerousness, they also admit that other evaluations will be needed.

The official position of the European Respiratory Society, also shared by the American Scientific Society, is that there are no unambiguous studies on the effects of electronic cigarettes; there are no evidence on their effectiveness in the fight against addiction and about more or less healthy effects.

Francesco Blasi, President of  ERS and tenured professor of respiratory diseases at Milan University, underlined that ‘at present, we have no certain figures to say if e-cigs are good or bad for your health’, although they can ‘have an incidence on young people’, giving rise to a new lifestyle and vicious circle of emulation and addiction.

Non-homologated smoke bans, lack of control on new shops and the problem of counterfeited electronic cigarettes, especially from China, complete the picture: the main distribution formula is franchising, with Chinese producers in the forefront thanks to very low prices.

With no clear rules, in fact, the market proliferates without laws to act as a counterbalance: in addition to specific national regulations, they are banned on all air flights worldwide (with the exception of Ryanair, which allows clients to smoke the e-cigs sold by the company, smokeless and with no battery).

In Italy, where they are banned to young people aged under 16 years old and specifically only on trains (according to independent regulation), a strong debate took place during the discussion of the Stability Law for an amendment meant to equalize e-cigs sales to traditional cigarettes’, as follows: ” any mechanic or electronic device, meant to serve as a substitute to tobacco products, that is assimilated to processed tobacco products and subject to distribution, detention and sales legislation.’ Moreover, they also discussed the possibility to establish cigarettes sales monopoly only in tobacco shops and drugstores.