Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or electronic cigarettes are devices that vaporise a chemical mixture and deliver it to the lungs of the user.
E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) are the most common type of ENDS.
The chemical mixture is typically made up of nicotine, propylene glycol* and other chemicals.
*this is a known irritant when inhaled.
The devices have electronic controls and cartridges of the liquid to be vaporised.
The manufacturers of these report that the cartridges typically contain between 6 and 24 mg of nicotine, but sometimes can contain more than 100 mg. In the form of tobacco products, nicotine is an addictive chemical that in excessive amounts can be lethal.
Are electronic cigarettes safe?
The safety of these has not been scientifically demonstrated.
The possible risks they pose for the health of users has not been determined. And scientific testing shows that the products vary widely in the amount of nicotine and other chemicals they deliver to the user.
At present there is no way for someone using an e-cigarette to know what is actually delivered by the product.
The testing of some of these e-cigarettes also suggests the presence of other toxic chemicals apart from nicotine.
What are the risks of the nicotine in these products?
These products with nicotine in them can pose a risk for nicotine poisoning and a risk for addiction to those people who do not smoke tobacco products.
Nicotine, either inhaled, ingested or in direct contact with the skin, can be particularly dangerous to the health and safety of children, young people, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, people with heart conditions and the elderly.
As e-cigarettes do not generate the smoke that comes from smoking regular cigarettes or pipes they can be assumed to be safer. However the chemicals used in electronic cigarettes have not been fully disclosed by the producers.
Can e-cigarettes help people to give up smoking?
Whether or not e-cigarettes are effective in helping people to give up smoking has not been scientifically tested or proven.
They are often sold or advertised as replacements to traditional tobacco products or tools for giving up smoking such as patches or gum.
But tools for giving up smoking must be used according to instructions developed for each product in order to be both effective and safe to the user. And there are no scientifically proven instructions for the use of e-cigarettes as tobacco replacement or to quit smoking.
The World Health Organisation recommends that until e-cigarettes have been named as safe, effective and of quality, (by a competent national regulatory body), consumers should be advised not to use these products.
From 1 October 2015 it will be illegal:
- for retailers to sell electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or e-liquids to someone under 18
- for adults to buy (or try to buy) tobacco products or e-cigarettes for someone under 18
There is more information on electronic cigarettes on the World Health Organisation website.