E-cigarettes 'can cause more harm than smoking,' experts sayPropylene glycol in e-cigarettes can be harmful
Chemical can cause acute respiratory system irritation

By
Susannah Butter

PUBLISHED:

22:00 GMT, 26 January 2013

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UPDATED:

23:18 GMT, 26 January 2013

They are billed as a healthier alternative to smoking, yet experts now warn that electronic cigarettes may be more damaging than the habit they replace.

The battery-powered tubes, usually styled to look like real cigarettes, contain a heating element that turns nicotine-laced liquid in a cartridge into a vapour mist that is inhaled.

This produces a sensation similar to smoking the real thing but, say manufacturers, without the carcinogenic chemicals found in cigarette tar.

Possible danger: A woman is seen smoking an electronic cigarette which experts warn as not as 'healthy' as advertised

Possible danger: A woman is seen smoking an electronic cigarette which experts warn are not as 'healthy' as advertised

To vaporise the nicotine solution, the chemical propylene glycol is put into the cartridges, and accounts for up to 90 per cent of their content.

This can cause ‘acute respiratory system irritation’, claims Dr Elisabeth Pott, director of the Federal Centre of Health Education in Cologne, Germany, who has studied e-cigarettes.

In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration analysed e-cigarette cartridges and found traces of the carcinogen nitrosamine and other potentially harmful substances in products from several manufacturers, in addition to ethanol and glycerin.

However, e-cigarette firms point out that nitrosamine is found in much higher concentration in cigarettes.

Bad breath: Chemical propylene glycol accounts for up to 90 per cent of the e-cigarette content and can cause 'acute respiratory system irritation'

Bad breath: Chemical propylene glycol accounts for up to 90 per cent of the e-cigarette content and can cause 'acute respiratory system irritation'

Users of the devices are expected to top one million in the UK this year and a leading brand, E-Lites, sells several hundred per day – a fourfold rise in one year.

Many brands available in the UK are imported without inspection. As the devices do not contain tobacco, they are not regulated by Tobacco Product Regulations.

They are also not classed as medical devices, so cannot be regulated in the same way as other nicotine replacement products.

Professor John Britton, of the Royal College of Physicians’ Tobacco Advisory Group, is calling for regulation of e-cigarettes that would ensure a ‘guaranteed standard’.

He added that they should be regulated to a degree to make sure there are reasonable levels of nicotine in them.

E-cigarettes have been banned in Canada, Australia, and some American states. Most recently, their use by civil servants in city offices and vehicles has been banned in Hanover, Germany.