VOLUME 28 NO. 11 | MARCH 7- MARCH 13, 2009

Chinese e-cigs gain ground amid safety concerns

Last updated 3-5-09 at 3:06 p.m.
Miao Nan, the executive director of Ruyan Group Ltd., puffs an electronic smoke while he shows other design during an interview at his office in Beijing, China, on Feb. 17. Ruyan Group Ltd, a Beijing-based company was the first to develop electronic cigarettes and says its patented atomizer technology allows users to get an immediate nicotine fix without being harmed by the hazardous chemicals produced when tobacco is urned.Photo by Andy Wong, provided by The Associated Press.

By Audra Ang

BEIJING (AP) — With its slim white body and glowing amber tip, it can easily pass as a regular cigarette. It even emits what look like curlicues of white smoke.

The Ruyan V8, which produces a nicotine-infused mist absorbed directly in-to the lungs, is just one of a rapidly growing array of electronic cigarettes attracting attention — and the scrutiny of officials — in China, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking and a potential way to kick the habit, the smokeless smokes have been distributed in swag bags at the British film awards and hawked at a trade show.

Because no burning is involved, makers say there’s no hazardous cocktail of cancer-causing chemicals and gases like those produced by a regular cigarette. There’s no secondhand smoke, so they can be used in places where cigarettes are banned.

However, health authorites are questioning those claims. The World Health Organization issued a statement in September warning that there was no evidence to back up contentions that e-cigarettes are a safe substitute for smoking or a way to help smokers quit.

It also said that companies should stop marketing the cigarettes that way, especially since the product may undermine smoking prevention efforts because they look like the real thing and may lure nonsmokers, including children.

“There is not sufficient evidence that [they] are safe products for human consumption,” said Timothy O’Leary, a communications officer at the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative in Geneva.

The laundry list of WHO concerns includes the lack of conclusive studies and information about e-cigarette contents and their long-term health effects, he said.

Unlike other nicotine-replacement therapies such as patches for slow delivery through the skin and some inhalers and nasal sprays, e-cigarettes have not gone through rigorous testing, O’Leary said.

Nicotine is highly addictive and causes the release of the “feel good” chemical dopamine when it goes to the brain. It also increases heart rate and blood pressure and restricts blood to the heart muscle.

Ruyan —which means “like smoking” — introduced the world’s first electronic cigarette in 2004. It has patented its ultrasonic atomizing technology, in which nicotine is dissolved in a cartridge containing propylene glycol, the liquid that is vaporized in smoke machines in nightclubs or theaters and is commonly used as a solvent in food.

When a person takes a drag on the battery-powered cigarette, the solution is pumped through the atomizer and comes out as an ultrafine spray that looks smoky.

Hong Kong-based Ruyan contends that the technology has been illegally copied by Chinese and foreign companies, and the company is embroiled in several lawsuits.

Most sales take place over the Internet where hundreds of retailers tout their products. Prices range from about $60 to $240. Kits include battery chargers and cartridges that range in flavors (from fruit to menthol) and nicotine levels (from zero — basically a flavored mist — to 16 milligram). The National Institutes of Health says regular cigarettes contain about 10 milligrams of nicotine.

On its Web site, Gamucci, a London-based manufacturer, features a woman provocatively displaying one of its e-cigs. “They look like, feel like, and taste like traditional tobacco, yet they aren’t. They are a truly healthier and satisfying alternative. Join the revolution today!”

In the United States., the Food and Drug Administration has “detained and refused” several brands of electronic cigarettes because they were considered unapproved new drugs and could not be legally marketed in the country, said press officer Christopher Kelly.

He did not give more details, but he said that the determination of whether an e-cig is a drug is made on a case-by-case basis after the agency considers its intended use, labeling, and advertising.

In Australia, the sale of electronic cigarettes containing nicotine is banned. In Britain, the products appear to be unregulated and are sold in pubs. (end)


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