Kate Moss is a fan, as is Leonardo DiCaprio. With an estimated seven million users in Europe alone, electronic cigarettes are definitely on trend. They are also proving controversial last week, a Mothercare worker was suspended after “vaping” in front of customers. Michelle Capewell, 41, was told to leave the store by her manager after taking a drag of her ecigarette.

That is not the only row the gadgets have sparked. Public health experts are sharply divided about ecigarettes, with some arguing they could substantially cut deaths from tobacco of which there are 100,000 annually in the UK while others warn they will only glamorise smoking, especially among the young.

Euro MPs added to the confusion last week by throwing out a European Commission proposal, supported by the UK s regulatory authority, to treat e cigarettes as medicines.

E cigarettes comprise a battery, atomiser and a cartridge containing nicotine, suspended in a solution of propylene glycol (the stuff from which theatrical smoke is made). When the user inhales, the solution is vaporised (hence “vaping”), delivering a nicotine hit to the lungs without the tar and toxins that would come from conventional cigarettes.

Some e cigarettes have an indicator light at the end which glows when the user inhales, to give an added touch of realism. And, unlike standard nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gums, patches and sprays, they offer “the cigarette experience”, notes Jeremy Mean, from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA). “Rituals such as having something to hold are very important in addiction,” he says. “E cigarettes may help some people more than standard NRT.”

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One study of 657 smokers, published in The Lancet last month, found that ecigarettes worked as well as nicotine patches in helping people stop smoking within six months. With an average quitting rate of about 6 per cent, neither method worked brilliantly, but e cigarettes were also better at reducing conventional cigarette use among those who did not give up totally.

“We cannot say they are 100 per cent safe because there isn t enough evidence,” says Amanda Sandford, research manager at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). “But in comparison to tobacco products they are safer by several orders of magnitude.” Unlike with passive smoking from conventional cigarettes, the effect on others from the vapour exhaled is thought to be negligible.

However, there is a problem with quality control which is why the MHRA wants to see e cigarettes regulated as medicine. This should come into effect in 2016, although without a Europe wide initiative the UK may act unilaterally. “Our tests show that different products vary in how much nicotine they deliver” says Jeremy Mean. “So some products may not help people regulate their nicotine cravings.”

There are also fears that ecigarettes could “renormalise” smoking and promote nicotine addiction. “This is precisely why they need regulating as medicines, so that they are not sold to under 18s or targeted at non smokers,” says Mean. He advises that for now, would be quitters should use conventional NRT products patches, gums and sprays rather than ecigarettes.

Amanda Sandford agrees that the potential of ecigarettes to reduce tobacco related damage outweighs the risks, but “they are not a panacea”. “Our research shows that two thirds of people who try ecigarettes give them up although we don t know why.”

Emma mcclarkin mep – european parliament vote sees conservative meps save electronic cigarettes from being taken off the shelves

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9th October, 2013

Strasbourg, 8th October 2013 Conservative MEPs have saved electronic cigarettes from being removed from shelves across Europe following a vote in the European Parliament today.

The European Commission sought to classify electronic cigarettes, which have become a popular method of helping people to quit smoking ordinary tobacco cigarettes, as a medicinal product. This would have led to the products being put through a rigorous and costly authorisation procedure after having been taken off shelves while ordinary tobacco cigarettes, which are much more harmful, remained available.

Conservative MEPs led the amendment to remove the classification of e cigarettes as medicinal products in order to make them as widely available as possible. The other main results of the vote include the removal of a ban on slim cigarettes and the enlargement of health warnings on cigarette packets to 65% while still allowing room for effective trademarks to help counter illicit trading.

However, despite Conservative efforts, menthol cigarettes will be banned after an eight year transition period.

Speaking after the vote, Ms McClarkin said

“Today’s vote is a victory for common sense as far as e cigarettes are concerned. Hundreds of my own constituents have written to me telling me how effective these products have been in helping them quit smoking ordinary cigarettes. I am pleased that we can reduce the harm of smoking by continuing to allow e cigarettes to be made as widely available as possible.

This is also a victory for small businesses, many of whom would have struggled to cope with the authorisation demands that the EU would have placed on them by classifying e cigarettes as medicines. Doing otherwise would have cost people jobs.

However, I cannot hide my disappointment that within the decade, my constituents face the prospect of turning up at their local newsagents intending to buy menthol cigarettes and finding out they can’t thanks to todays vote. While I wholeheartedly agree that we need to find ways to stop young people from smoking, I don’t think that young people take up smoking due to menthol. This vote has reduced consumer choice and will only turn voters against the EU even more than before.”