E-cigarettes not so harmless

The perception that e-cigarettes, known as vapes or twisp, are safer than traditional cigarettes is false.

This is according to Dr Catherine Egbe, a specialist scientist at the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit of the Medical Research Council of South Africa.

“Researchers, along with the National Council Against Smoking, have been urging South Africans not to view e-cigarettes as safe, as they introduce new risks to user,” said Egbe.

As of 20 November, 47 confirmed deaths and 2 290 confirmed cases of lung injury linked to e-cigarettes or product use-associated lung injury (Evali) were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States.

Patients with Evali used a variety of vaping products, such as products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or nicotine. Some used products containing both nicotine and THC, while others -containing products while other used products with neither nicotine nor THC.

Analyses of fluid samples collected from the lungs of 29 Evali patients identified vitamin E acetate, which is used as an additive in vaping products, as the chemical of concern.

It was found in all the analysed fluid samples.

While no cases of Evali have been reported in South Africa, it is possible that South African health practitioners might not consider vaping when diagnosing respiratory diseases.

Dr Franco Erasmus, clinical manager of the Mediclinic Bloemfontein, said the National Department of Health issued no warning for hospitals to consider vaping when investigating causes of severe lung diseases.

Mondli Mvambi, spokes­person for the Free State Department of Health, said South Africa does not have a tool for monitoring deaths related to smoking.

Considering the increase in the popularity of e-cigarettes in South Africa, deaths related to vaping are worrisome.

As a regular vape user, Errol Cason feels vaping is safer than traditional cigarettes.

“People should, however, be careful about what they put in their bodies. If at all possible, people should stay away from smokingpeople can, they should rather not smoke,” he cautioned.


Egbe believes the number of deaths and reported cases in America confirms the calls made by resear­chers and advocates that people need to be wary of e-cigarettes.

The South Afrcan government has been applauded for its plans to regulate e-cigarettes through the Tobacco Bill, but criticism has been levelled at the delays in processing the bill.

“This will address all the concerns regarding the regulation of tobacco-related products and empower health authorities to deal with public health concerns regarding tobacco,” said Mvambi.

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