Smokers using battery-powered electronic cigarettes to beat the smoking ban were warned yesterday that they are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemicals.
The e-cigarettes, which provide a smoke-free "high" by vaporising a liquid mix of nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals, were found by a scientific study to contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, which is found in anti-freeze.
While UK companies selling the cigarettes claim that they "contain none of the dangerous, carcinogenic toxins and chemicals that are found in standard cigarettes", the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which tested 19 varieties of electronic cigarette, warned that it was "concerned about the safety of these products and how they are marketed to the public". Despite the health fears surrounding e-cigarettes, their sale is not regulated by the Health Protection Agency or any other health body in the UK. A trading standards spokesperson said: "There is no specific regulation for electronic cigarettes, as they are not tobacco products. They are just subject to regular trading and safety laws as electrical products."
Concerns were first raised about the possible dangers of electronic cigarettes in the UK after a boom in sales linked to the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007. The FDA expressed concerns that e-cigarettes have not been submitted for evaluation or approval. While they are banned in some countries, such as Canada, e-cigarettes are available from a range of UK websites, with prices starting at about £39.99 for the cigarette, and nicotine cartridge refills available for less than £1 each. Some contain flavourings such as strawberry and caramel, which health campaigners fear may appeal to children.
"Electronic cigarettes are allowed on the marketplace without being subjected to the comprehensive testing required of medicinal products," said Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). "We would recommend that anyone trying to quit should use medicinal nicotine products such as patches, gum or the inhalator, which have been tested and found to be both safe and effective, rather than electronic cigarettes."
However, anti-smoking campaigners argue that the risks posed by electronic cigarettes are still lower than those of ordinary cigarettes. "Cigarettes contain thousands of different chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic and are particularly dangerous when burnt, and kill half all long-term smokers," Ms Arnott said.