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Warning over electronic cigarettes

22nd September 2008

Global health experts have warned against using electronic cigarettes, nicotine delivery gadgets available for sale on the internet.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) says no clinical trials have been done to prove whether the device, which delivers a nicotine mist when puffed on, is either safe or effective as an aid to quitting smoking.

The cigarettes were initially developed in China, and are now selling online, with buyers in all major regions of the world, including Brazil, Britain, Canada and Israel.

The devices were getting more and more popular in spite of a total lack of regulation surrounding their development and sale, WHO said.

Most electronic cigarettes have an inner chamber containing liquid nicotine in a rechargeable cartridge, housed in a metal tube the size and shape of a cigarette. The idea is that puffing on it will deliver a dose of the nicotine craved by smokers, but without any smoke being produced.

Some people have used it to evade smoking bans in public places, the WHO statement said.

Douglas Bettcher, acting director of the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, said the UN body knew of no scientific evidence whatsoever to show that the electronic cigarette was safe. Neither could it be sure that it was an effective way to kick the habit.

Bettcher told a news briefing that while users inhale a fine mist of nicotine into their lungs, they might also be inhaling any number of other toxic compounds which experts had not tested.

No toxicological tests or clinical trials had been performed on the product, he added.

Legitimate therapies were still nicotine gum, patches and lozenges, all of which helped with cravings as people gave up smoking, and therefore their nicotine addiction, WHO said.

Bettcher called on manufacturers of electronic cigarettes to use proper regulatory frameworks, and to carry out rigorous toxicological testing and clinical trials.

WHO's response was in part prompted by the use of the agency's logo on the websites of some manufacturers, implying - wrongly - that the global health body had endorsed the device.

WHO officials are currently contacting health officials in its 193 member countries to alert them to these bogus claims, according to Bettcher.

Turkey has already moved to ban sales of electronic cigarettes, which have only come to the attention of health experts this year.

Bettcher said the phenomenon had taken WHO and its member governments by surprise.

A landmark anti-smoking treaty drafted by WHO and ratified by 160 countries since its signing in 2003 called for stronger warnings on cigarette packets and curbs on sponsorship and advertising.

Tobacco use, WHO says, contributes to 5.4 million deaths every year from heart disease, stroke and other diseases, making it the single largest cause of preventable death worldwide.

 

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