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The electronic cigarette has come to replace tobacco and help in reducing the incidence of diseases and deaths related to smoking. But, will it really help in controlling the tobacco epidemics? And more importantly, is it health risk-free?

Cigarette consumption around the world

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 6 million people are killed as a consequence of tobacco, either directly, by smoking it or just by being exposed to second hand smoke. By 2030, almost 8 million people, mainly from low and middle-income countries, would have died as a consequence of cigarette smoking. The tobacco addiction is now considered as one of the most important epidemics that our society faces and several strategies have been developed by governments to lower smoking rates among the population.

Cigarettes, nicotine and disease

All tobacco products contain nicotine, which is a stimulant drug that causes addiction and makes it very hard for smokers to quit this habit.

Apart from nicotine, tobacco cigarettes also contain many other toxic chemicals that have been strongly linked to the development of several diseases, including lung and cardiovascular diseases, as well as certain types of cancer.
Despite these alarming facts, almost 20% of the world’s adult population smokes cigarettes, with China being the country where more cigarettes are consumed.

In order to help smokers in the process of quitting this habit, several approaches have been developed to reduce tobacco consumption, such as taxes on tobacco products and bans on tobacco advertisements. A different alternative is the substitution of tobacco with other products that contain nicotine.

One of these novel products is the electronic cigarette, which has gained notoriety in recent years, as well as both supporters and detractors

The e – cigarette: How does it work?

Electronic cigarettes were invented in China and have been in the U.S. market since 2007. Despite this, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to this organism, there is a pending modification on the current rule that regulates tobacco products in order to include e-cigarettes, but this is still in revision.

Electronic cigarettes are what is classified by the WHO as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

In other words, they are battery-operated devices that are designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals in the form of aerosol. The aerosols that e-cigarettes produce are inhaled by the user, just as if it was a regular cigarette.  Where does the nicotine and chemicals come from? 

These devices do not burn tobacco; they are loaded with a solution that contains both the nicotine and chemicals that simulate the effects of real tobacco in the smoker’s system and that is heated until turned into vapor, so it can be inhaled.

The e-solution is constituted by nicotine, propylene glycol and glycerol, that work as solvents and humidifiers respectively, flavoring agents and other chemical compounds that are known to be toxic, such as aldehydes, phenols and metals

The amount of nicotine depends on the solution cartridge that is used; there are even nicotine free solutions that are only flavored and are used by people that just want to get that rewarding sensory experience they get with tobacco, but without the health risks.
But, are e-cigarettes the answer to the tobacco epidemics? Do they really help people to quit smoking? Let´s find out. 
Continue reading after recommendations

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  • Photo courtesy of marco monetti by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/marcomonetti/8710407483
  • Photo courtesy of Lindsay Fox by Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/87735223@N02/11358900874