Venomous vaping? Debate over ‘poison vapours’ threatens to send e-cigarette craze up in smoke

Worries over e-cigarette poisonings have ignited the debate over the introduction of a public UK ban.

With more than 200,000 British children now starting to smoke every year, the latest fear is that ‘vaping’ will be next.

Since the introduction of e-cigarettes throughout the last decade, the number of users has continued to rise, with an estimated 1.3million e-cigarette ‘vapers’ in the UK – a staggering rise from just 700,000 last year.

With a cloud of confusion over where e-cigarettes can actually be used, The Department of Health said: “E-cigarettes aren’t currently regulated like products that contain tobacco. At the moment, we don’t know enough about whether they are safe, effective or made to consistent quality standards.”

It is believed by many that e-cigarettes not only undermine the UK’s seven-year old smoking ban but also pose a risk to ‘passive vapours’ as well as glamorising the habit for children.

Wales’ Minister for Health and Social Services Mark Drakeford has announced that Wales could be the first part of the UK to introduce a ban of e-cigarettes in public places, there are currently no plans to enforce a ban in England.

Drakeford also raised concerns about the health risks of ‘vaping’ in public places: “E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and I want to minimise the risk of a new generation becoming addicted to this drug.”

There has even been support further up the political chain as UKIP leader Nigel Farage recently described e-cigarettes as ‘remarkable’.

E-cigarettes will be regulated as medicines by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency when new European tobacco laws are enforced in 2016.

A ‘vaper’ himself, manager of e-cigarette retailer VIP, Corby Starr said that he would support a ban on use in public areas as he discourages his customers from using e-cigarettes indoors.

He told MM: “I tell my customers to not use them inside and to use it as a normal cigarette so that they’re not smoking for longer than they usually would.”

Starr recollected hearing stories of teenagers already comparing who has the best flavour and best style of e-cigarette.

The Bury 19-year-old added: “So many kids are going to start smoking anyway, so why let them have the harmful one of the two.

“I’ve had parents come in with their kids before. I just speak to the parents on the quiet and give them the refills that have absolutely 0% nicotine but still have the flavour. The kids never know.”

The store manager says that until legislation is introduced, the biggest problem is the quality of the liquid nicotine refills.

Unchecked substances claiming to be liquid nicotine are already appearing on markets for knock-off prices around Manchester

Legally, e-cigarettes are allowed to be used in any public space. However many companies have already taken matters into their hands and placed bans on their vehicles and premises.

Assistant Manager of Piccadilly Tavern Mike Bretherton, 27, from Oldham said: “As a company rule, we don’t allow e-cigarettes. When it’s crowded you can’t always see the difference between smoke and vapour.

Like over a million fellow users, Mr Bretherton has taken advantage of e-cigarettes to stop smoking. Experts are predicting that e-cigarettes could potentially prevent 100,000 tobacco-related deaths in the UK each year by using them to stop smoking.

“Personally I think that e-cigarettes should be allowed inside. I’ve been using them for five months to quit smoking and I’m about to go onto my 0% filter. But I think they should be registered as a medicinal aid to help people quit.”

Many of the UK’s bus and coach companies have also implemented their own ‘no vaping’ policy over the past two years.

Stagecoach introduced their ban of e-cigarettes to their customer conduct following an incident in July 2012.

At the height of terrorism alerts in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, a Megabus passenger called 999 after witnessing a man doing something in his bag from which smoke appeared. The coach was stopped at the M6 toll by armed police with bomb disposal experts closing the toll for six hours. The smoke was in fact an e-cigarette.

Similar confusion occurred last year when a life-long Man City fan was stripped of his season ticket as he was escorted from the Etihad by police, after stewards spotted him using an e-cigarette.

Other public places, such as shopping centre Manchester Arndale, does have avoided an outright ban and are dealing with each case of e-cigarette usage individually.

A spokesperson for the shopping centre told MM: “Whilst we do not have a specific policy in place regarding the use of e-cigarettes, the health and safety of anyone visiting Manchester Arndale is of paramount importance to us.”

Residential child care worker Liam Twigg from Didsbury disagrees with the prospect of a ban. The 31-year-old non-smoker and non-vaper said: “I don’t think they should ban e-cigarettes if there are no dangerous chemicals in them.

“They are doing no harm so why ban them? Most users are quitting normal cigarettes so why isolate them more?”

This was a view shared by Welsh Conservatives this week who described the ban as a ‘step backwards’ for quitters, with the possibility of stigmatising people who are trying to give up.

The ingredients of e-cigarettes and the lack of research on long-term effects have strengthened the pro-ban cause as US research suggests that poisonings are on the rise.

Statistics from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have revealed that the number of e-cigarette-related poisonings has risen from 0.3% to 42% in just four years.

The new US figures are now casting a cloud of doubt over the safety of inhalation and ingestion of liquid nicotine, with symptoms such as nausea and inhalation difficulties worst affecting children.

The report from the States found that the most common symptoms of poisoning amongst under-fives were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation. The poisonings were caused by the liquid nicotine being either ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin or eyes.

One of the main selling points for most e-cigarette retailers is the fact that e-cigarettes are listed as containing only four main ingredients – propylene Glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine, food flavourings.

Traditional tobacco cigarettes on the other hand contain around 19 ingredients as well as 50 known carcinogens and another 3500 additional chemicals.

Instead of producing smoke, e-cigarettes produce a second-hand vapour which is thought to be mainly water. However, opponents claim that more research is required to prove that the vapour is harmless.

The glamorisation of using e-cigarettes by celebrities, such as US actress Katherine Heigl, is also a worry for parents of some impressionable teens. 

Image courtesy of Michael Dorauch with thanks

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