How safe are e-cigarettes?

We all know that smoking is one of the hardest habits to kick and most smokers have at some stage wished that a new invention would come along to get rid of their cigarette cravings.

E-cigNow electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have emerged onto the marketplace and more than 2 million smokers in the UK have turned to them as a way to quit smoking tobacco.

As their use has tripled over the past two years, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has become increasingly concerned over safety issues reported about these products, particularly fire risks and the potential for children to be poisoned.

Whilst e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, new legislation is being proposed which will ban the sale of these products to under-18s in this country and similar plans have also been announced in the USA.

E-cigarettes use a small battery and atomiser to turn nicotine liquid into an inhalable mist that is an alternative to tobacco smoke. The water vapour is almost odourless and designed to be harmless to both the user and anyone else in the room.  They are often sold in flavours such as strawberry and in bright coloured packaging, both of which can be appealing to children.

There have been reports that very young children are copying their parents’ behaviour by putting e-cigarettes into their mouths when unsupervised.  This has led to a number of children being poisoned by ingesting the liquids contained in the e-cigarette.  Many parents are failing to realise that e-cigarettes should not be left unattended when children are around even though they are not “alight” like traditional cigarettes.

Very young children often copy their parents' behaviour.

Very young children often copy their parents’ behaviour.

Another area of concern is the risk of e-cigarettes overheating and catching fire, especially when they are plugged into a mains supply or a USB port and left to charge.  Last year, 68-year-old Evelyn Raywood was killed when a fire tore through her care home in Hasland, Derbyshire. Fire investigators ruled that a heated battery pack used overnight to charge her e-cigarette overheated and sparked a fire which sadly caused her death.

It’s important to remember that e-cigarettes are relatively new to the marketplace and there are no specific regulations governing their safety.  The cigarettes themselves do not currently need a CE Mark (a sign that shows consumers that a product should be safe).  As such, consumers should exercise caution when considering whether to buy or use these products.

The law also currently allows e-cigarettes to be smoked in public places. Following claims that e-cigarettes help to
normalise smoking, along with concerns that their use in public undermines the existing tobacco smoking ban, there have been proposals for a ban on their use in public places in Wales.

Here at RoSPA, we completely understand how difficult it can be to kick a habit like smoking cigarettes, but our message is clear – if you want to use e-cigarettes as a substitute for smoking tobacco then please be aware of some of the reported hazards associated with them.

Always buy them from a reputable retailer, avoid charging overnight if possible and keep them well out of the reach of children at all times.

I hope that this blog has been of use to you, and good luck if you are trying to kick the habit!

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA product safety adviser.

7 Comments to “How safe are e-cigarettes?”

  1. The charging issue is definite ‘accident potential’. As a rule of thumb, never charge for more than four hours and never use a charger other than the one which came with your starter kit.

  2. Have you ever thought about creating an e-book or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based on the same information you
    discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would enjoy your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

  3. I don’t care what it does to its addicts, but I want this thing to be banned from all the places where conventional fags are banned. We used to be told that passive smoking was harmless.

  4. Really interesting article, I hadn’t realised the risks involved. Agree more research is needed.

  5. E-cigarettes are quickly becoming the go to alternative to smoking ‘normal’ cigarettes and not a phased option to give up. Sure, some people will use them that way, but the majority of people who use the cigarettes that I know seem to think its the socially acceptable option.

    Having given up in 2006 after 26 years as a smoker, I find neither option acceptable (there’s nothing worse than a reformed smoker!). I do worry though, that the younger members of the extended family seem to think that because its an e-cig, then it’s ok to smoke in any environment. Kids or no kids….

    I have no doubt they will, in time replace what we know as a normal cigarette, and the tobacco companies will be at the centre of it all, as they need to protect their industry. They can advertise freely at the moment, so they they won’t miss a trick. You will have seen already the adverts portraying them as something wonderful, much the same as cigarettes were portrayed in the 50’s and 60’s….the slope is slippy and getting slippier….

  6. So called ‘common chargers’ having a USB output may be used to charge an e-cigarette. Incompatible output currents may increase the likelihood of overheating and a potential fire hazard. Seems like further research and testing is required.

  7. I smoked for 20 years and quit three months ago with the help of an e-cig. I used that for a month and quit that as well. I know at least 15 other people that have done the same. E-cigs are shrinking the tobacco industry rapidly and big tobacco knows it. I’m not saying there isn’t real complaints but ask yourself who would benefit from swaying public opinion against e-cigs.

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