Page last updated at 10:02 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 11:02 UK

Fears over electronic cigarettes

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Smokers try out the electronic cigarettes in a pub

Fears are being raised about the boom in sales in the UK of so-called electronic cigarettes.

The cigarettes use replaceable cartridges with shots of nicotine, but have become popular because they are not covered by the smoking ban.

While the products do not contain tar, tobacco or carbon monoxide, experts are worried as users inhale a fine heated mist and there is a lack of regulation.

But retailers said they were healthier than normal cigarettes.

Since the smoking bans came into force, smokers have been forced to go outside to light up.

I think our concern is that we would really like smokers to use safer nicotine products but there is a regulatory gap
Deborah Arnott, of Ash

Companies selling the electronic cigarettes have responded by marketing them as a way of getting round the ban.

And in recent months they have reported a rise in sales with some selling over 1,000 of the 40 starter-packs a month.

However, campaigners including the World Health Organisation, have raised concerns, pointing out there was a lack of knowledge about the products.

Douglas Bettcher, of the World Health Organisation, said there was a "regulatory blackhole" which meant no-one knew just what these products contain.

"We are facing a new product. We do not know what is in these cartridges besides nicotine. What are the effects of heating and vapourising the nicotine and inhaling it?"

And Deborah Arnott, of anti-smoking group Ash, pointed out that many of the products were made in China where quality control was "not very good".

"I think our concern is that we would really like smokers to use safer nicotine products but there is a regulatory gap.

"The advice is to use products that have been tried and tested such as nicotine gums and patches."

'Healthier'

But Jason Cropper, managing director of the Electronic Cigarette Company, said: "They are certainly healthier than smoking cigarettes.

"Tests have been done on mice and in the lab and they have shown they are not harmful."

But he said it had not been possible to carry out human trials as they were too expensive.

"Most of these companies selling these are small companies. We do not have the finances to do that.

"It might be an idea if we can get someone to work with us."


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