The Burning Question: Are E-cigs Safe?

Vaping is gaining in popularity, but critics fear they will erode anti-smoking gains

From The Montreal Gazette by Charlie Fidelman

People are doing it on the métro, bus and plane, often without getting as much as a first glance from passengers. The battery-operated, cigarette-shaped electronic device may have a glowing tip at its “burning end” but produces wisps of vapours that are odourless and smoke-free.

A proliferation of storefront shops, sometimes only a block apart, devoted strictly to e-cigs and their many flavours and accessories, attests to the growing popularity of the device as an alternative to smoking. Its selling point is in its supposed health benefits, especially when compared to the traditional cigarette.

But how safe is vaping? There are stories of e-cigarettes blowing up in people’s faces and of children getting poisoned.

Critics call it an unregulated drug delivery system, while fans — backed by some doctors — say it’s much better for one’s health than smoking the real thing. Only last month, a group of 53 leading medical experts warned the World Health Organization that applying nicotine restrictions to low risk products such as e-cigarettes would put at risk a great opportunity to cut disease and death due to smoking.

At issue is a tobacco product — nicotine. Health Canada classifies nicotine as a drug that is not authorized for sale except in a nicotine patch, chewing gum or lozenge. Some argue that for youth, e-cig is a gateway device toward nicotine addiction.

While the United States is eyeing regulations, Health Canada has taken a wait-and-see approach since it issued a warning in 2009 that e-cigs with nicotine may pose health risks and have not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and efficacy.

“To date, no electronic cigarettes with nicotine or health claims have been authorized by Health Canada,” a spokesperson for the department said in an email. “This means that currently, the advertisement and sale of electronic cigarette products, including e-liquid, that contain nicotine and/or have health claims is non-compliant with the Food and Drugs Act., and is therefore illegal.”

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