The recent emergence of the electronic or e-cigarette on the market has caused Bajan health officials to issue a warning to prospective users of this new product.

The Health Ministry of Barbados has advised that the e-cigarette had not been tested to determine its long-term effects, and is therefore not recommending it as a replacement or additional smoking device, nor as a tool to stop smoking.

The e-cigarette, which was invented in China can either look like a regular cigarette or for those who prefer not to let persons know that they are smoking, they are stealth models that do not look like a cigarette and resemble a pen.

Recently, acting Senior Medical Officer of Health (Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases), Dr. Leslie Rollock, pointed out that the e-cigarette, on which a smoker puffs to release a vapour of stored liquid nicotine and other substances, like propylene glycol, had not been sufficiently tested to determine its effects.

The health official noted that though the amounts of these contents in e-cigarettes was small, they had not been tested on large enough groups of people to determine if exposure would have second-hand or an individual effect on a smoker.

They have tested the cartridges, and tests of the e-cigarette contents revealed the devices may release some of the chemical compounds and tobacco ignition products that are carcinogenic [cancer causing substance]. We already know it contains propylene glycol, which is an irritant, and persons who have been exposed to concentrations of propylene glycol, which is used as a mist in theaters to produce smoke-like effects, can suffer a decrease in lung function,” she underlined.

The device is also being promoted by some marketers as a way for smokers to quit. “But the Boston University School of Public Health conducted tests on certain brands of e-cigarettes and they concluded that the levels of contaminants in e-cigarettes that they tested were similar to those in nicotine replacement therapy, like the patches, the lozenges and the inhalants. However, quitting tobacco use is somewhat very difficult, and because nicotine addiction is powerful and cessation is usually pursued in the context of counseling, it is not simply enough to switch to another form of nicotine, however safer that form may be said to be,” she warned.

Dr. Rollock noted that in spite of all of these claims, the World Health Organisation has advised that e-cigarettes, based on all the available evidence so far are not a proven cessation aid; and it has advised the marketers who are claiming that they are cessation devices to desist since the claim is, at present, unfounded.

The health officer also drew attention to some labeling concerns with the products, as some claimed that they did not contain nicotine, but did, she said.

Some of the ones that are labelled low, medium or high levels of nicotine are not a good guide of if they are indeed medium or low, so some concerns have been raised about that.”

Notwithstanding the claims by some e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers, studies have not been completed on the effects of “second-hand smoke” from the e-cigarettes.

We know that some of the excretion products are toxins and carcinogens, but to say that one cartridge contains a small amount, so there is not much harm to the person who is smoking, is not to say that you can then allow many of them to go into places where people are eating, places with small children and enclosed places,” Dr. Rollock warned.

At present, the e-cigarette does not fall under the Health Services (Prohibition of Tobacco Smoking in Public Places) Regulations, 2010, since the regulations only relate to ignited tobacco products.

Barbadians are, therefore, urged to become more informed about the e-cigarette, which has already been banned in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Singapore, and the State of Oregon (USA), while some European countries currently have it under review.

In most of the e-cigarette devices that are on the market, no tobacco is used. The nicotine is a synthetic product. However, the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] has actually said that e-cigarettes are tobacco products. So, in Barbados, if the e-cigarette is designated as a tobacco product then it would be regulated as any other tobacco product,” the doctor underscored.

She was, however, quick to point out that by virtue of their similarity to cigarettes, whether they contain nicotine, or not, it is still illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors (persons under age 18).

The health official noted that the products were relatively new to Barbados, and she advised persons not to use them since not enough was known about their effects.

We don’t know enough about them – their long term effects, their effects on children and in enclosed places. So far, in Barbados, there is no legal instrument to say that they cannot be used, but based on the lack of proof that they are safe, we would advise persons not to use them,” Dr. Rollock advised. {BGIS NEWS FEATURE}

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