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Smoking: The Damage

Producers of a version of the controversial electronic cigarette or ‘e-cigarette’ are seeking to have their product approved as a medicine to help smokers quit their dangerous habit.

UK company CN Creative has submitted a new e-cigarette, called Nicadex, to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the hope that it will be approved as a medical product, allowing it to be prescribed by doctors and bought as a quitting aid in shops and pharmacies. If approved, it will be the world’s first medically approved e-cigarette.

E-cigarettes work by vapourising liquid nicotine using a battery-powered heating coil. This nicotine is then inhaled by the user, while an LED on the end of the device and the emission of clouds of water vapour make e-cigarettes look like the real thing.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive known drugs, and it is the element that makes it so difficult for tobacco addicts to quit the habit. But it is not nicotine that is primarily responsible for making cigarettes so deadly: a cocktail of around 4000 dangerous chemicals found in the average cigarette includes ammonia (found in toilet cleaners), cadmium (a poisonous metal found in batteries), cyanide (a poison), carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas produced by coal fires) and tar (a thick residue which coats fingers, teeth and the insides of lungs).

However, many have yet to be convinced by e-cigarettes, feeling that they continue to glamorise something that looks like smoking. Dr Stanton Glantz, a Professor of Medicine at the at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California in San Francisco, says that there is evidence that e-cigarettes still emit toxins into the air, although the levels are much lower than with normal cigarettes. Nicotine itself is also not without its dangers – it is proven to increase blood pressure and accelerate the progression of heart disease.

Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that e-cigarettes can help even the most hard-core smokers to quit. A trial conducted with 40 smokers in Italy, none of whom expressed any intention to quit at the start of the trial, saw 22 either quit or reduce their consumption of cigarettes by more than half after six months. The results of a much wider study by the same team of researchers are soon to follow.

Another trial currently taking place in New Zealand is seeking to directly compare the effectiveness of e-cigarettes and nicotine patches. Traditional nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, lozenges and chewing gums, on average increase the likelihood of quitting by 50-70%. It is proposed that e-cigarettes will be at least this effective, if not more.