The United Nation’s health bureaucracy is calling countries to ban the use of e-cigarettes indoors along with advertising restrictions and bans on sales to minors.
The World Health Organization worries that the booming electronic cigarette market poses a potential health risk for countries and the international group cautions that some critics worry e-cig use could “undermine efforts to denormalize tobacco use.”
A recent WHO report says that e-cigarettes should be regulated to “minimise content and emissions of toxicants.” The report advocated that e-cigarette “users should be legally requested not to use [the product] indoors” until “reasonable evidence exists that smoke-free policy enforcement is not undermined.”
E-cigarette proponents argue the product is much safer than conventional cigarettes and can be used to help smokers kick their addiction. Even The American Heart Association says e-cigs could “in some cases the product could help people quit smoking” and that data suggests “e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes.”
But the AHA also wants to impose regulations on the “access, sales and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth, and for more research into the product’s health impact.” The AHA, like many anti-tobacco crusaders, worries that “e-cigarettes are dangerous because they target young people, can keep people hooked on nicotine, and threaten to ‘re-normalize’ tobacco use.”
“In summary, the existing evidence shows that [e-cigarette] aerosol is not merely ‘water vapour’ as is often claimed in the marketing for these products,” the WHO reports. “[E-cigarette] use poses serious threats to adolescents and fetuses. In addition, it increases exposure of non-smokers and bystanders to nicotine and a number of toxicants.”
E-cigarettes are battery-powered water vaporizers that are supposed to simulate smoking, delivering nicotine without many of the harmful carcinogens present in traditional cigarettes. There is little information regarding the long-term public health effects of e-cigarettes because they have not been on the market that long.
However, even the WHO admits that the public health concerns don’t come from the nicotine in the product, but instead come from ultrafine particulate matter which can get into the respiratory system of bystanders.
“Nevertheless the level of toxicants, nicotine and particles emitted from one [e-cigarette] is lower than that of conventional cigarette emissions,” the WHO said. “It is not clear if these lower levels in exhaled aerosol translate into lower exposure, as demonstrated in the case of nicotine.”
“It is unknown if the increased exposure to toxicants and particles in exhaled aerosol will lead to an increased risk of disease and death among bystanders as does the exposure to tobacco smoke,” WHO continued. “However, epidemiological evidence from environmental studies shows adverse effects of particulate matter from any source following both short-term and long-term exposures.”
Particulate matter has become a major concern for environmental and public health regulators. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that particulate matter causes premature death though other studies show that particulate matter is not a major public health concern.
But the WHO says that the “low end of the range of concentrations at which adverse health effects has been demonstrated is not greatly above the background concentration… which means that there is no threshold for harm and that public health measures should aim at achieving the lowest concentrations possible.”
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