E-cigarettes simply reinforce a terrible habit

Very little scientific research has been done into the effects of these devices

When I was struggling to give up smoking, I often wondered when scientists would stop faffing around with that Large Hadron Collider and invent a cigarette that didn’t kill you. After teleportation and an iPhone battery that lasts longer than 12 hours, surely this must have topped the “Overdue” column on Science’s Big To Do List? Then, some time last year, that little plastic device with a red glowing light on the end was suddenly everywhere. It was to the rebellious allure of actual cigarettes as a Ken doll’s crotch is to real sex, but still, it worked. It allowed the smoker to inhale nicotine, without the harmful effects of tobacco. Healthy cigs had finally arrived. Be careful what you wish for.

Yesterday’s vote on the regulation of tobacco-related products at The European Parliament would have been confusing even if it wasn’t obscured by a cloud of profit motivation and pseudo-concern for public health. The MEPs said “No” to cigarette flavourings – but the ban on menthol cigarettes will be delayed five years. It was a “Yes” for those slim cigarettes favoured by affected schoolgirls and, most significantly, “Yes” to electronic cigarettes. By voting against the proposal to treat e-cigs as medicinal products the MEPs have freed manufacturers – for now at least – from any restriction on their sale.

It’s a huge success for these companies. They argue that their product could save lives by helping smokers give up more harmful tobacco products. Anti-smoking campaigners counter that e-cigarettes act as a stepping stone for non-smokers and that the lavish, unregulated marketing budgets are undermining years of work to end smoking’s cool cachet. In fact, neither party’s claims are supported by much evidence. Very little scientific research has been done into the effects of e-cigarettes and the chemicals they contain.

If e-cigarettes are intended to help smokers quit, their success in replicating the experience of smoking is a drawback. Nicotine replacement therapies, like patches, work by keeping the physical addiction under control while the smoker marshals their energies towards battling the psychological habit. In my experience, once you’ve mastered the fear of not looking cool at parties, overcoming the physical addition is a breeze. E-cigarettes, on the other hand, only reinforce the same habit you’re supposed to be kicking.

Until the research is done, we won’t know much about e-cigarettes’ secret ingredients, but we already know two things for sure: 1: Repeatedly dragging on a cigarette of any kind will give you wrinkles around your mouth exactly like a dog’s arse. 2: For as long as you are addicted to nicotine, you will be enslaved to a profit-making company that seemingly cares naught for your health or happiness. In many cases, these are the same companies that continued to push cigarettes to our parents and grandparents after they were proven to cause cancer. Why should we give them a penny more?