Health campaigners have praised new laws on e-cigarettes, claiming it could signal a significant breakthrough in helping people quit smoking, but share concerns over potentially unknown side effects.
The changes will come into effect in the United Kingdom this Saturday [20 May 2017] and limit the size and strength of e-cigarette tanks, as well as ban certain ingredients, including colourings and caffeine.
E-cigarettes and e-liquids must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products regulatory agency before they can be sold. Vape tanks larger than 2ml will no longer be permitted while e-liquid bottles now have a maximum capacity of 10ml. A maximum nicotine strength has also been set at 20mg (2%).
Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, a charity working to raise awareness about the importance of good oral health and wellbeing, welcomes the new regulations that will now impact the 2.3 million Brits who use e-cigarettes.
Dr Carter says: "One of the biggest areas of concerns e-cigarettes remained that the industry operated without regulation. Given the sustained and rapid growth of the number of people switching to e-cigarettes, regulation was an absolute necessity and we're delighted to see it finally being brought into force.
"These measures should give consumers added confidence about what they are purchasing and will also hold manufacturers and suppliers to account. It is also important to control elements such as inappropriate advertising, misleading labelling and clear advice on correct usage, which these changes will now set out to do."
Last week, a report by Action on Smoking found that more than half of UK vapers had given up smoking. Health bodies including Ash and the British Medical Association have also said that vaping is 'almost certainly better' than smoking tobacco. However, experts have raised concerns about the addictive nature of vaping, with worries that it re-enforces habitual behaviour.
"Not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine and have flavourings, but the clear majority are nicotine-based," adds Dr Carter.
"Whether it's in a cigarette or e-cigarette, nicotine is highly addictive. We know that vapers typically smoke more than somebody who smokes tobacco so the addiction element is still very much there, and now the new regulations have reduced the amount of nicotine strength, e-cigarette users will now have to purchase more, at a greater cost, to satisfy their needs."
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in the UK, attributing to almost 80,000 deaths a year in England alone. It is also responsible for a plethora oral health problems such as mouth cancer, plaque and tartar, inflammation, bone loss in the jaw, teeth staining and bad breath.
While such issues are not linked to nicotine, nicotine itself isn't without its issues.
Dr Carter adds: "E-cigarettes may well be a healthier way to access nicotine but it's not completely problem-free. Nicotine itself limits the blood flow in our mouth's tissues. Because of this, it seems likely that vapers may be more prone to gum disease. If you are thinking about switching to e-cigarettes or already use them, it is important to be extra attentive to the prevention of gum disease."
Gum disease has a long history of being linked with heart disease, diabetes, strokes, pre-term births and dementia.
"Many have found vaping highly effective in their bid to quit smoking but the long-term goal should be to do neither. There are many e-cigarette users out there who have vaped for three, four, five-plus years. Given the links between gum disease and wider health problems, it is important that over time, you slowly attempt to come off both tobacco and e-cigarettes altogether.
"By brushing last thing at night and at one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste, cutting down on sugary foods and drinks, and visiting your dentist regularly, you can not only develop and maintain good oral health but can also improve your overall wellbeing too," concludes Dr Carter.