E-cigarettes - scientists want more safety studies before use..

January 21, 2010 - Electronic cigarette (e-cigarettes) look real, but are battery-powered and typically made of stainless steel

There is a worrying lack of safety data on electronic cigarettes, despite their growing popularity with the public, two leading Greek researchers have warned. Andreas D Flouris and Dimitris N Oikonomou said that while "alternative smoking strategies are always welcome in an effort to reduce the threat to public health" caused by tobacco, safety was also vital. "More rigorous chemical analyses are needed, followed by extensive research involving animal studies and, finally, clinical trials in humans," they wrote.

In the British Medical Journal, they say that without more evidence it is impossible to know if such products actually do more harm than good. Some studies have raised safety fears, but retailers argue e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to the real thing. Users can inhale nicotine without tar, tobacco or carbon monoxide.

PAPER: Electronic cigarettes: miracle or menace? Flouris (aflouris@cereteth.gr) and Oikonomou, FAME Laboratory, Institute of Human Performance and Rehabilitation, Centre for Research and Technology—Thessaly, Volos, Greece, BMJ 2010;340:c311, 1st 150 words of text..

The United Kingdom (UK) Department of Health suggested consumers "exercise caution".
The Department of Health is not aware of any evidence about the long-term safety of e-cigarettes and, as such, would suggest that consumers exercise caution. (Government spokeswoman)

The authors concluded that consumers should stop using the devices until ongoing safety studies reported back within the next year. The World Health Organisation is among those to raise concerns about the safety of these new types of cigarette substitute, which deliver a nicotine hit in a fine vapour. And in the past year, US regulators have detained and blocked numerous shipments of e-cigarettes at borders because the devices are not approved.

In the UK, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes as a "quit smoking" aid. But they are widely available to buy as a "cigarette alternative" over the internet and are sold in a number of places, including some bars and clubs.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report expressed concern after finding different brands of the battery operated device delivered markedly different amounts of nicotine vapour with each puff. The FDA also detected traces of powerful cancer-causing chemicals. (FDA: Electronic cigarettes contain toxic chemicals..; e-cigarettes - FDA approval needed prior to marketing..; E-cigarettes need to establish efficacy and safety - FIRST..)

The researchers told the BMJ: "The scarce evidence indicates the existence of various toxic and carcinogenic compounds in e-cigarettes, albeit in possibly much smaller concentrations than in traditional cigarettes."

Callum Reckless, director at Smart Smoker, a company that sells e-cigarettes, said: "I believe that electronic cigarettes are indeed a safer alternative to smoking real cigarettes." He welcomed more research into the safety of the products.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it had been working with regulators to test the products and that none of those tested so far complied with product safety regulations. She said the government was working to ensure e-cigarettes were labelled and sold appropriately.

"The Department of Health is not aware of any evidence about the long-term safety of e-cigarettes and, as such, would suggest that consumers exercise caution. "E-cigarettes are not promoted by, or available on, the NHS," she said.

FDA and e-cigarette manufacturers has been so heated. A U.S. judge last week granted an injunction barring the Obama administration from trying to ban imports of e-cigarettes, saying the move was part of "aggressive efforts" by the FDA to regulate "recreational tobacco products."

Reference: Proof lacking on e-cigarettes' safety, experts warn by Michelle Roberts, Health reporter, BBC News, 1/20/2010; Scientists want more safety studies on e-cigarettes, Reuters, 1/20/2009.