Smoking without tobacco

Smoking tobacco is one of the main factors for developing various diseases and the cause of many premature deaths. Smokers are becoming increasingly aware of its health implications and many of them are searching for ways to give up this unhealthy habit or at least reduce the number of cigarettes smoked.

The National Institute of Public Health emphasizes that smoking abandonment is beneficial to health at any age, however, the most before the age of 40. There are various options and aids available to smokers, including nicotine-based chewing gums, patches and inhalers, as well as medicines prescribed doctors. Even though these are all approved products, many smokers say they are not helpful in quitting smoking because they do not offer the ritual of smoking, which is as important as nicotine itself.

An increasing number of nicotine addicts are therefore using electronic cigarettes, and many of them – after many years of smoking classical cigarettes – have managed to quit or reduce smoking thanks to this product. A 2014 Eurobarometer survey showed that 10% of smokers in the EU have already tried to quit smoking using e-cigarettes; 67% of them said that they started to use e-cigarettes in order to reduce tobacco consumption or stop smoking, and e-cigarettes helped 14% of respondents to quit smoking. Those who have switched to smoking e-cigarettes report health improvement, for example easier breathing, improving their taste and smell, restoring their appetite and cough relief.

Electronic cigarette can help in quitting smoking

E-cigarette is an electronic device that uses a battery to heat up a special liquid or filler and changes it into a steam the user inhales. Both nicotine and non-nicotine fluids are available. E-cigarettes are designed and produced in a variety of ways, so there is a wide variety of products, and their common characteristic is that they do not contain tobacco.

Great advocates of an e-cigarette as a significantly less harmful alternative to a classic cigarette are in the UK. About 2.9 million people currently use it there, 470,000 of which as an aid in quitting smoking. In August 2018, the UK Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee stated in its electronic cigarette report that because of the absence of tobacco, tar and carbon monoxide that represent the most dangerous components of classical cigarettes this e-product is 95% less harmful than conventional cigarettes. The report concludes that e-cigarettes provide an opportunity to speed up this already-present trend of smoking cessation and can address one of the biggest causes of premature deaths in the United Kingdom. The calls for e-cigarettes to be used as a means to quit smoking were supported by the Public Health England, too. The French High Council for Public Health (HCSP) also agrees that e-cigarettes could help to reduce or stop the use of tobacco.

Despite numerous studies confirming electronic cigarettes to be less harmful compared to classic ones, for now, many in medicine and market regulations strongly oppose. They justify their standpoint with the fact that e-cigarettes are not long in the market, which is why the consequences of their long-term use have not yet been explored. Health workers, regulators and anti-smoking activists also warn that the improper promotion of e-cigarettes could lead to normalization and expansion of smoking, especially among the teenagers and young adults, although this is not confirmed by research conducted abroad. The survey of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a British charity public health organization active in preventing tobacco damage, found that 87% of those aged 11 to 18, who never smoked classic cigarettes, did not even try e-cigarettes, 7% never heard of them, 5% used them once or twice, and less than 1% use them on a regular basis.

What about the situation regarding e-cigarettes in Slovenia?

According to the 2016 National Institute of Public Health data, e-cigarettes are used by less than a percentage of the population aged 25 to 74 (around 11,000 people) here in Slovenia. The lesser extent of their use is attributable to the fact that there is not yet a major provider of these products present in the Slovenian market. There are some local companies specialized in distribution of e-cigarettes, its components and liquids, but consumers often buy these products abroad.

In Slovenia, the regulation of e-cigarettes is covered by the Law on the Restriction of the Use of Tobacco and Related Products, which enforces the same provisions as for tobacco products (ban on use wherever smoking is prohibited, a complete ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorships, ban on sales to minors, taxation, etc.), although they do not actually contain tobacco. Of course, the regulation of e-cigarettes is necessary and supported by e-cigarette advocates, too. From the point of view of public health and health of an individual, however, it would be necessary to raise awareness of smokers and explain to them that e-cigarettes are a much less harmful alternative and can also help them to quit smoking.

Derek Yach, a founder of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, agrees and says that WHO should advise doctors to recommend e-cigarettes to smokers who want to quit smoking. As a father of the theory of reducing tobacco damage who has introduced nicotine chewing gums to the world, Michael Russell said: “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar”, which is not contained in e-cigarettes.

Matej Črnjavič

Corporate Communications Specialist

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