Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes to appeal to the cool kids, are starting the plague bars and shopping malls across the land.
Electronic cigarettes are healthier because they do not contain tar or release carbon monoxide, so in this respect they are far healthier than cigarettes and tobacco.
The problem with electronic cigarettes is that they do nothing to prevent addiction to nicotine. While nicotine does not have any known health side effects (so long as you do not count a dog dying after eating an e-cigarette), it is very naive to assume that if a child becomes addicted to it from smoking electronic cigarettes they will not move on to tobacco at a later date.
Children and young adults smoke because it is perceived as being a socially positive thing to do; it is cool to smoke. Smoking is often expected for an individual to fit in with some groups at school, and smokers tend to form their own social groups.
An electronic cigarette does not last forever, at some point they will need to be replaced. If this happens in the evening when out in bars or clubs, the only option may be to buy cigarettes. If it happens at a friends house who smokes tobacco, the only option is to smoke a cigarette.
Electronic cigarettes are currently being advertised and marketed much more widely than is allowed for tobacco. Stalls are appearing in shopping malls (in no-smoking areas) and the vendors smoke them to attract their customers.
Encouraging people to take a healthy form of nicotine which will lead to addiction is no different from encouraging people to try alcohol or illegal drugs in the hope that they will never become dependent and start to suffer problems of substance abuse.
In recent years much progress has been made to reduce the exposure children have to cigarettes. Advertising has been banned, displays need to be out of sight from passing customers and there are proposals to remove branding from cigarette packaging. All of this is an attempt to prevent people becoming addicted to nicotine and spending a life destroying their lungs and vascular system with tobacco.
While it may not be unhealthy to smoke electronic cigarettes it could certainly lead to an unhealthy lifestyle once the addiction sets in. This is why electronic cigarette companies should have to follow the same strict rules on marketing and advertising that tobacco companies have to abide by.
But will anybody listen to me?
Photo by Michael Dorausch