Health experts call for stricter e-cigarette regulations
Dr Richard van Zyl-Smit says there hasn't been enough research into the side-effects of smoking e-cigarettes.
CAPE TOWN - Despite several success stories of people quitting smoking with the help of an e-cigarette, there's growing concern the device won't effectively reduce smoking rates and could pose its own health risks.
Health experts are concerned about the free availability of the device, which delivers a nicotine fix through a heated solution of nicotine, water vapour and chemicals considered safer for inhalation than tobacco.
They are also concerned about the lack of regulations around e-cigarettes and have called for more stringent regulations, similar to those on tobacco smoking.
Dr Richard van Zyl-Smit, the Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit (LCRU) at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute, says there hasn't been enough research into the side-effects of smoking e-cigarettes.
He says the primary addictive substance in an e-cigarette is nicotine and so, like tobacco cigarettes, even the e-cigarette can become addictive.
Van Zyl-Smit says some of the major unanswered questions about the product are whether it actually helps people to fully quit smoking and how effective it is in comparison to existing nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum.
He says the long-term effect of inhaling nicotine in vaporised form also remains a mystery.
"The big thing we're missing is long-term data."
He says it took 50 years to prove that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer and that was in the 1950s.
"We haven't even had 10 years of decent research with e-cigarettes and one of the drawbacks is that we just don't have the research data [for it]."
He does however say that while there is no concrete evidence, the e-cigarette should be much safer than tobacco.
"There is some data that shows there is some effect of lung resistance. The air flow in and out of your lungs and the nicotine itself in the e-cigarette is not a totally unknown substance. It does have negative effects on your body, your cardiovascular system and your immune system."
Van Zyl-Smit also says there is no data around whether a bystander is affected by second hand smoke from an e-cigarette.
"It should be safer because you're not actually burning tobacco, so there's no smoke- its water vapour."
LISTEN: 567 Cape Talk's John Maytham speaks to Dr Richard van Zyl-Smit about the side-effects of the e-cigarette.