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E-Cigs grow in popularity but without regulation

As a growing number of public spaces – restaurants, shopping malls, hospitals, airports – are banning smoking, more and more people in Kuwait are turning to e-cigarettes (also called vapors) to satisfy their desire for nicotine. Some think that it will help them quit smoking regular cigarettes. Others view it as a bulwark against a possible cigarette price increase due to possible tax implementation.

The American Lung Association notes that electronic cigarettes are an unknown quantity. They are still a new technology and as such unregulated by the US FDA. Indeed, many countries around the world do not regulate the ‘vapors’ and research on the potentially harmful effects remains in its infancy.

What’s inside an e-cig?

Even so, as the ALA points out, ” the main component of e-cigarettes is the e-liquid contained in cartridges. To create an e-liquid, nicotine is extracted from tobacco and mixed with a base (usually propylene glycol), and may also include flavorings, colorings and other chemicals.” The problem is that because there is no regulation in Kuwait or elsewhere, it’s impossible to know what chemicals exactly are in the e-cigarettes. There are also many different brands of e-cigarettes and it’s unclear what chemicals are used in all the different brands. Some studies cited by the ALA have shown not only nicotine but also formaldehyde, an ingredient used in anti-freeze and other harmful chemicals in the e-cigarettes tested.

Expert opinions
Kuwait Times spoke to two cardiologists to get their opinion on this issue. Dr Bader Almahdi, Consultant Cardiologist at Al Seef Hospital, noted that it’s difficult to make a judgment now on e-cigarettes or vaporizers as there isn’t enough data yet. “The e-cigarette is a relatively new trend, since about 2004, so it hasn’t even been in the market for 20 years. So we don’t have results about the long-term effect of this device, which is not clear yet,” he told Kuwait Times.

“No doubt that it badly affects the human body as it contains 30 chemical substances – some that are toxic, including nicotine. So the smoker is not avoiding the carcinogenic materials existing in regular cigarettes. An e-cigarette is based on a heating element and cartridge that vaporize flavors. It is not approved or licensed by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), so it’s on the same level as regular cigarettes. And what I know as a cardiologist is that it’s harmful, as nicotine increases heartbeat and hypertension. So I’m warning smokers that they are not saving their health by replacing conventional cigarettes with e-cigarettes. At the end of the day, it’s replacing one addiction with another,” he concluded.

Harmful substances
Dr Khalid Al-Merry, International Cardiologist at Al Salam Hospital, agrees that the e-cigarette is harmful, yet he believes it might be less harmful than conventional cigarettes. “A regular cigarette contains more harmful substances such as tar and carbon dioxide, but the e-cigarette also includes nicotine and other substances that cause addiction. While the e-cigarette is based on vaporization, the conventional cigarette works by burning materials, which is worse. But the e-cigarette is not a treatment to quit smoking in any way. There are many better methods to avoid or quit smoking such as tablets approved by the FDA. So if people use e-cigarettes for this purpose, it will only delay better treatments to quit smoking. But addiction depends on the level of willpower, of course,” he explained.

“It was noticed that the trend of smoking e-cigarette increased the number of adolescent smokers. Many youth believe that the e-cigarette is a toy and not a real cigarette and will prevent them from getting addicted. But in reality, they may easily shift to smoking conventional cigarettes. Statistics have shown an increase in the number of adolescent smokers using e-cigarettes. I would never prescribe it to any patient as a way to help him quit smoking,” Merry told Kuwait Times.

And those who like them
Hussein, a 29 year old smoker started smoking e-cigarettes about two months ago after many of his friends and relatives shifted to this trend. “I was smoking a box or two per day for a couple of years, and when I started smoking the e-cigarette I was only smoking one single cigarette per day. But after a month I realized that its very expensive, as it coast me around KD 90. One 30 ml bottle cost KD 15 in Kuwait while I found it now online its much cheaper. Also the shop from where I used to buy it is telling me that it’s not always available and I have to wait a week to order it for me. For this reason I’m not smoking it much now, and I’m again smoking cigarettes but less than before,” he noted.

He is not convinced that the e-cigarette is more harmful than regular cigarette. “What I heard from doctors, each has a different opinion. I even did a search online and didn’t find anything serious or worse than regular cigarettes. All my friends who were smoking shisha (a water pipe) stopped smoking it completely, while those smoking cigarettes either quit smoking totally or at least are smoking less. Also the e-cigarette is adjustable and the user can regulate the percentage of nicotine and strength of smoke. So he can make it very light or even without nicotine,” added Hussein.

Ban or no ban?
There have been rumors of a ban of e-cigarettes but nothing official. An inspector of the of the Ministry of Commerce told the Kuwait Times that the Ministry is not in charge and they didn’t ban the electronic cigarettes. But it seems that Customs at border points has listed it among items not allowed in Kuwait.

By Nawara Fattahova

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