Heightened awareness on the adverse effects of tobacco, which most people get through cigarettes, is dissuading potential users from smoking.
When burned, tobacco releases nicotine, which is the addictive drug that makes people hooked to smoking and unable to stop.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. It kills up to half of its users and leads to adverse health consequences that cause undue suffering among affected individuals.
Indeed, studies show that smoking causes a wide range of ailments which include cancer, strokes, heart attacks, nerve damage, fertility problems, miscarriages, stillbirths, as well as premature births.
As revenues remain threatened by these public health concerns, tobacco companies have been pushing for alternative products which they market as 'safe' and thus acceptable.
Key among them is the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette). This is a battery-operated device that emits a vapourised solution of nicotine or other substances that people inhale.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. They offer the nicotine directly to users through inhaled vapours.
These are among the tobacco company products that are mostly targeting the youth, especially with the use of flavours. As such, their marketing has grown rapidly through social media channels that are heavily used by this target population.
Despite their lack of tobacco, the WHO indicates that nicotine and other substances contained in e-cigarettes are still harmful and should not be falsely marketed as safe.
Indeed, the health body indicates that much of the marketing around these products are linked with deceptive health claims that are misleading to the public.
Even though they are relatively new in the market, emerging studies are increasingly providing evidence of their health consequences.
The WHO is also against the promotion of e-cigarettes as products which can help people who are already smoking to stop doing so. This is due to the lack of adequate evidence supporting such claims.
A new study published in the Circulation Journal indicates that e-cigarettes expose people to cardiovascular disease, just as traditional cigarettes containing tobacco.
“They should not, therefore, be relied on as safe alternatives for smoking cessation,” notes the study.
These novel findings emerged from the review of data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (Path) Study conducted in the United States.
The journal, which is a flagship publication of the American Heart Association indicates that there are no cardiovascular heart health benefits linked to e-cigarettes compared to the traditional ones.
Cardiovascular disease is a general term used to describe a range of ailments that affect the heart and blood vessels. They include heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), heart valve problems, heart infections, congenital heart defects and narrowing of blood vessels. These conditions can lead to adverse health effects like heart attacks and strokes.
Compared to people who only smoked traditional cigarettes, the study specifically found that individuals who smoked traditional cigarettes and also used e-cigarettes (as is usually the case among those trying to quit smoking) had no significant differences in risk for any cardiovascular disease nor for risk for heart attack, heart failure or stroke.
“The fact that dual use - using both traditional, combustible cigarettes and e-cigarettes - had similar cardiovascular disease risk to smoking cigarettes only is an important finding as many people are taking up e-cigarettes in an attempt to reduce smoking for what they perceive is a lower risk,” said Dr Andrew Stokes, a senior author of the study, and an assistant professor in the department of global health at the Boston University School of Public Health.
“It is common for people to try to switch from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes and get caught in limbo using both products. We are concerned that any recommendation of e-cigarette use for smoking cessation may lead to increased dual use, as well as e-cigarette initiation among young adults and those who have never smoked cigarettes,” he stated.
“Since e-cigarette use is still relatively new, there is not yet a strong body of long-term evidence to determine the eventual risk of using these products over time, so we look forward to more data from more ongoing studies.
It’s important to remember that even with traditional cigarettes, decades of use and surveillance were needed to provide the strength of evidence we now have confirming the highly significant harm of combustible cigarettes,” said Dr Rose Marie Robertson, the deputy chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association and co-director of the Tobacco Centre of Regulatory Science, which supported the study.
"E-cigarettes are not approved for smoking cessation. We urge anyone who smokes and is interested in quitting to speak with their doctors and health care team about other effective smoking cessation options,” Robertson said.
Behavioural counselling in combination with the use of nicotine replacement therapy drugs and two non-nicotine medications (bupropion and varenicline) are proven to aid in smoking cessation and thus recommended. However, they can only be administered under the guidance of doctors or health practitioners.