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Popularity of E-Cigarettes Raising Concerns

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The increasing popularity of ’e-cigarettes’ — electronic nicotine-delivery systems — has critics, defenders and health organizations in China, the U.S. and elsewhere taking notice, the Associated Press reported Feb. 28.

The battery-powered e-cigarette, introduced in 2004 by the Hong Kong-based developer Ruyan, pumps a solution of nicotine dissolved in propylene glycol through an atomizer. The device produces an ultrafine spray that resembles smoke, and is marketed as a way for the smoker to receive an immediate nicotine fix without the harm associated with burning tobacco.

E-cigarettes are being sold on a growing number of websites, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has questioned the validity of marketing campaigns that proclaim the product as a safe smoking substitute or a method to help smokers quit.

“There is not sufficient evidence that (they) are safe products for human consumption,” said Timothy O’Leary, a communications officer at the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative. O’Leary cites the lack of definitive studies and information about the contents of e-cigarettes and their long-term health effects.

The e-cigarettes come in kits containing a variety of flavors, with nicotine levels ranging from zero to 16 milligrams. The National Institutes of Health said regular cigarettes contain about 10 milligrams of nicotine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has “detained and refused” several brands of the product, considering them unapproved new drugs that cannot be legally marketed. The sale of e-cigarettes is banned in Australia, while in Britain they are unregulated and sold in pubs.

Some non-smoking advocates defend the products. David Sweanor, an adjunct law professor at Ottawa University and former legal counsel of the Non Smokers Rights Association in Canada, said, “It’s the delivery system that’s killing people,” and that e-cigarettes have the potential to save lives.

Murray Laugesen, a New Zealand physician involved in tobacco control, was commissioned by Ruyan to test its product. Stating that he found “very little wrong” with e-cigarettes, Laugesen said the product is “the best substitute so far invented for tobacco cigarettes.” 

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