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E-CIGARETTES

WHO urges ban on e-cigarettes for minors

Governments should ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said on Tuesday, warning that they pose a "serious threat" to foetuses and young people.

WHO urges ban on e-cigarettes for minors
Photo: Jim Watson/AFP

The UN health body also recommended that the cigarette-shaped electrical devices be banned from public indoor spaces "until exhaled vapour is proven to be not harmful to bystanders".
   
"The existing evidence shows that (e-cigarette) aerosol is not 'merely vapour' as is often claimed in the marketing of these products," WHO said.
   
The devices, which have grown in popularity in particular with youths, function by heating flavoured nicotine liquid into a vapour that is inhaled — much like traditional cigarettes, but without the smoke.
   
They also often widely come without the regulation that has increasingly dogged the traditional cigarette industry, with some countries allowing advertising and the sale of the devices to minors.
   
So far, users have also widely been permitted to freely "vape" in places where traditional smokings is strictly off limits.
   
WHO's recommendations came in a report published ahead of a meeting in Moscow in October of parties to an international convention on tobacco control, where new global guidelines on e-cigarettes will likely be approved.

Sales rising sharply

The sales of e-cigarettes have risen sharply since they were first introduced in 2005.
   
US health authorities warned Monday that the number of US youths who have tried e-cigarettes tripled from 2011 to 2013, with more than a quarter of a million young people who had never smoked giving the devices a shot last year.
   
Manufacturers maintain e-cigarettes are safe and claim they can help smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
   
But while the WHO acknowledged that the devices were "likely to be less toxic for the smoker than conventional cigarettes", it underlined the lack of research backing up the manufacturers' claims.
   
Until manufacturers provide "convincing supporting scientific evidence and obtain regulatory approval," they should be banned from making any health claims, including claims that e-cigarettes can be used to help buck smoking, it said.
   
It also warned of the "renormalisation effect" e-cigarettes can have, meaning they can making smoking itself more attractive and "perpetuate the smoking epidemic".
   
In the meantime, the UN body stressed that there was enough evidence "to caution children and adolescents, pregnant women, and women of reproductive age" about e-cigarette use, due to the "potential for foetal and adolescent nicotine exposure (having) long-term consequences for brain development".
   
Taking that into consideration, WHO said advertising should generally not be permitted of e-cigarettes, since that could make them attractive to children.

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SMOKING

Swiss boffins create cannabis e-cigarette

Swiss scientists have created a cannabis e-cigarette, intended for medical use, that is safer than a joint and better than a pill, they said on Thursday.

Swiss boffins create cannabis e-cigarette
File photo: Marcel van Hoorn/AFP

“Therapeutic cannavaping”, they argued, should be examined as an alternative to existing medical treatments which can come in the form of a syrup, pill, mouth spray, skin patch, suppository, or a plain-old spliff.
   
The team copied an improvised method popular among marijuana afficionados using butane gas to extract and concentrate cannabinoids — the active, high-causing compounds of cannabis.
   
“We were inspired by what is done illegally, underground, on the web fora,” study co-author Vincent Varlet, a biochemist and toxicologist from the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, told AFP.
   
“Normally, they use this form of cannabinoids to get high. Based on what is done illegally, we found that it could be interesting” for the medical field.

The method yields super-concentrated “dabs” of butane hash oil (BHO) comprising about 70-80 percent THCa, the precursor of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive ingredient. THCa is transformed into THC at high heat.
   
Usually the dabs are burnt and the fumes inhaled. But for the study, the team mixed their activated BHO paste into commercially-available e-cigarette liquid at different concentrations — three, five or ten percent.
   
They then put “vaping machines” to work: sucking at the e-cigarettes and blowing out vapour, which was measured for its THC content, according to results published in the nature journal Scientific Reports.
   
“Cannavaping appears to be a gentle, efficient, user-friendly and safe alternative method for cannabis smoking for medical cannabis delivery,” the team concluded with a nod to “the creativity of cannabis users”.
   
It was also more reliable than consuming cannabinoid pills or foods which are poorly and erratically absorbed, said Varlet.

Safer pain relief?
   
Battery-powered e-cigarettes heat up liquids containing artificial flavourings, with or without nicotine, to release a vapour which is inhaled and exhaled much like smoke.
   
They are touted as safer than the real thing, and an aide for giving up cancer-causing tobacco — which is also an ingredient of the traditional cannabis joint.

Cannabis-infused e-liquids are advertised online, along with a rash of recipes for making your own.
   
Medical marijuana can be legally prescribed in some countries for pain relief, appetite stimulation, nausea reduction or the relief of muscle spasms.
   
A challenge, said Varlet, was to keep cannabis intended for therapeutic use out of the hands of recreational high-seekers.
   
One way to do that was to have legal drugs with microdoses of cannabinoids.
   
“We have calculated that to have the same dose of what is present in a real cigarette joint… with tobacco, we have to vape between 80-90 puffs” of the 10-percent BHO liquid, said Varlet.
   
“Eighty puffs constitutes a rebuttal to getting high,” he added, when a few drags from a joint will do.
   
“The take-home message of our article is that vaping is less harmful than smoking, so you can be sure that cannavaping is less harmful than cannabis smoking for medical purposes,” said Varlet, adding there was no plan to patent or sell the product.
   
“Today, we have set the cat among the pigeons. This is just the first step, and we need to see how the scientific community is going to welcome this kind of possibility.”
  

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