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Further research into hazards posed by e-cigarettes

Publication date: 03 December 2013
Modificationdate: 20 October 2016
Safety of nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) cannot be confirmed because of the limited amount of published research in this area. This view was expressed by the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in a fact sheet about e-cigarettes. The National Institute is concerned about the safety, quality, sales, and endorsement of e-cigarettes.

In response to a recommendation by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and to the study carried out by RIVM itself, State Secretary Martin van Rijn has asked RIVM to carry out further research into the hazards posed by the exhaled vapour released during e-cigarette use. In its fact sheet, the RIVM states that nicotine is an addictive and toxic substance. Large doses of nicotine can even be fatal to both children and adults. In many instances, packaging of e-cigarettes make no mention of important information such as nicotine content, proper use of product, and the potential hazards.

Irritation to respiratory system

Other substances in e-cigarettes, such as propylene glycol and glycerol, may irritate the respiratory system. Moreover, the liquid used in e-cigarettes sometimes contains carcinogenic substances such as formaldehyde and tobacco-specific nitrosamines. Numerous misleading or unproven claims have been made about the health effects of e-cigarettes. For instance, that the health gains associated with e-cigarettes are comparable to giving up smoking. It is also sometimes claimed that e-cigarette smokers do not develop smoker’s cough, that e-cigarettes are not carcinogenic, and, moreover, that they can be safely used by pregnant women.

The researchers note that e-cigarette manufacturers appear to be specifically targeting young people, by adding flavours such as cherry, coke, and Pina Colada, and by modifying the design of product to appeal young people. For instance, some e-cigarettes have fancy buttons or lamps in a shape of a diamond simulating an attractive gadget and not a cigarette. Some designs look more like fancy coloring pens than e-cigarettes. It is not known whether e-cigarettes induce people to take up tobacco smoking. It has not been established either that e-cigarettes are a suitable way of helping people to give up smoking. RIVM has identified an additional problem associated with e-cigarettes: people throw away the empty cartridges, which can lead to the contamination of water and soil.

RIVM’s fact sheet containing details about the e-cigarette is intended to support an advisory report on e-cigarettes prepared by the NVWA for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.
E-cigarettes, which are subject to the provisions of the Commodities Act, are becoming increasingly popular. This trend prompted an investigation to determine whether this new product poses any as yet unidentified risks that are not adequately covered by existing legislation.

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