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Insufficient knowledge of health effects of electronic cigarettes

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Press release 7/2012
14.02.2012, Helsinki

The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) report that not enough reliable research data has been published on the safety and health effects of electronic cigarettes, nor on their effectiveness in smoking cessation.

There is so far very little scientific evidence regarding the health effects of electronic cigarettes. "According to the reliable research available, electronic cigarettes contain the same components that endanger health as conventional cigarettes, some that even cause cancer," says the Director General of THL, Pekka Puska. The long-term effects on the functioning of the respiratory organs are not well known. Research has also shown that the quality of the liquids used in electronic cigarettes varies greatly, and that the product descriptions do not always match the real contents.

"FIOH urges workplaces to treat the smoking of electronic cigarettes in the same way as that of real cigarettes. A non-smoking workplace is the most advisable solution," says Harri Vainio, Director General of FIOH.

Unsuitable as nicotine replacement therapy
The ban on advertising tobacco products and tobacco equipment also applies to electronic cigarettes. However, it is constantly defied. Electronic cigarettes are marketed as environmentally safe products, which can be used anywhere. Many manufacturers also advertise their products as a safe aid to quitting smoking.

"There is no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid, or of their safety," states Director General Harri Vainio. He is particularly concerned about the constantly growth in marketing of electronic cigarettes, as its supervision is insufficient.

Experts at THL and FIOH stress that from the health perspective, it is best to quit smoking altogether, rather than substitute it with electronic smoking. When quitting smoking, it is advisable to use proven safe, effective methods, such as nicotine replacement therapies or prescribed smoking cessation medication.

Concern over young people
THL and FIOH are concerned that the aggressive marketing of electronic cigarettes will attract the interest of young people. In Finland, electronic cigarettes are not subject to the tobacco law prohibiting its sale to under 18-year-olds. Some retailers however, do apply the age limit to sales of electronic cigarettes.

Electronic cigarette regulations are now on the agenda because of the EU tobacco directive reform. Finland's statement (2010) specifies that the development of new tobacco products and various nicotine products should be discouraged. In Finland, the nicotine cartridges of electronic cigarettes are classed as drugs, and are not licensed for sale. Electronic cigarettes are banned in Greece, Lithuania, Norway and Turkey. In Finland adherence to the tobacco law is supervised by VALVIRA, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health. 

For further information:
Antero Heloma, Chief Physician, THL, Tel. 020 610 8956, 040 713 2238, antero.heloma(at)thl.fi
Kari Reijula, Professor, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Tel. 030 474 2932, 040 550 2050, kari.reijula(at)ttl.fi
Hanna Ollila, Specialist-Researcher, MSocSc, THL, Tel. 020 610 8617, hanna.ollila(at)thl.fi

Modified 14.02.2012