There is no scientific proof that electronic cigarettes are useful in combating smoking addiction and they should not be used by young people because they are still delivering nicotine to the body, a study by the Italian Health Ministry said today.
The gadgets often known as e-cigarettes have growing in popularity in Italy as well as the U.S.
The Health Ministry report, published Friday, warned that this "fashion gadget" should not be used by young people because, even if smaller quantities of nicotine are inhaled in this way, there are still serious potential health risks. The report also raised the concern that the use of this gadget could lead young people to graduate from these devices to smoking real cigarettes.
An association of electronic cigarette makers scoffed at the report's claims and said the device is intended to help people who are already smokers.
The e-cigarette is basically an electronic inhaler made up of a plastic cartridge that acts as a mouthpiece, a battery, a reservoir for a liquid aroma solution and an "atomizer" that vaporizes the liquid. Some of the aroma solutions contain nicotine indifferent concentrations. It produces a smoke-like vapor that simulates the act of tobacco smoking and when inhaled delivers the nicotine, if used in the liquid-base, into the bloodstream via the lungs.
Roberta Pacifici, director of Italy Observatory on Smoking, Alcohol and Drug Use at the National Health Institute, who worked on the report, told Italian news agency ANSA, "We can say that the electronic cigarette is less toxic, but we cannot say that it is totally innocuous."
"We have to have a prudent approach towards this product as we know little about its worth in stopping people smoking or how toxic it is," she said.
The international scientific reports studied "do not reassure us about the effectiveness or the innocuousness of its use," Pacifici said.
She conceded that even though there are different strengths of nicotine concentrations in the liquids available the actual amount of nicotine in an electronic cigarette is markedly lower than in a normal cigarette "and a traditional cigarette when smoked produces over 400 substances which are mostly carcinogenic and absolutely toxic."
Legislation concerning e-cigarette and its liquids use and sales varies throughout the world since the e-cigarette first went on the market less than 10 years ago now. Many countries are awaiting further tests but are reluctant to warn against its use as it is recognized that it can help some smokers to cut their cigarette consumption which could lead to a lower mortality rate from cigarette smoking. A limited amount of scientific tests and controlled studies are available as the product is a relatively new invention.
Pacifici told Italy's La Repubblica daily paper, "Should its efficacy as a means to curb smoking be proven it should still be treated like all the other substitutive nicotine products like nicotine gum and band aids...as a medical device." Her institute has also recommended that it should be sold with a detailed health information note. For now the only warnings are against the sale of the product to under-16 year olds and the recommendation to keep the product away from children.
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Selvaggia Gurrieri bought her electronic cigarette nearly two months ago and says it has helped her cut down on cigarettes. "I use it in places where I cannot smoke like in restaurants and at the movies and it has helped me cut down on the amount of cigarettes I smoke." However she now "smokes" in bed too, her non-smoking partner, added.
Another Roman, Marco Guerrieri, bought his first electronic cigarette three months ago and says he has already recouped the $100 approximate cost he spent on it as he has gone from smoking about 20 cigarettes to only five a day. "I don't know if it has really become a fashion yet but people know what it is now. I use it at the movies, at restaurants, in the airports and on planes...and nobody has once stopped me mistaking the vapor for smoke."
'I gave my girlfriend's father one for Christmas but he tried it for a day and gave it up. It was too complicated for him and too hard for him to switch now from the traditional cigarette."
Ray Story, CEO of The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, said there was no proof e-cigarettes had ever harmed anyone and that attacks on e-cigarettes were more about protecting revenues than public health.
"In Italy, tobacco is sold through government stores. That old Mafioso-type environment protects its own," he said.
Story said e-cigarettes don't claim to help people quit smoking.
"Yes, nicotine is addictive, like caffeine and sugar. We're not in the non-addictive business. We cater to someone who is already a smoker. Starbucks sells coffee; Coca-Cola sells cola. Both have caffeine. But e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in the cleanest way," he said.
Regarding the Health Ministry's recommendation that e-cigarettes not be given to young people, Story said: "Not giving them to young people is common sense. … We have age verification on our products."
He scoffed at the concern that the use of this gadget could lead young people to graduate from these devices to smoking real cigarettes. "Yeah, and virgin daiquiris make people alcoholics. It's absolutely inaccurate; there's no proof," Story said.