News | Sunday, 09 November 2008

Wave goodbye to smoking bans... but not just yet

Need a nicotine fix? Say hello to the e-cigarette, the world’s first electronic cigarette that gives the human body a simulation of the chemical effect of tobacco smoking. Except that there is no tobacco or nicotine, and that means no health hazard.
But the answer to guilt-free smoking may take some time to appear in Maltese shops. That’s because the product has been classified as a tobacco product by the health authorities.
The agent for the UK’s Electronic Cigarette Company says he has full certification and lab analyses that prove the product is tobacco-free, and that he was allowed to import it without paying the excise duty that is levied on other tobacco products.
But as freely as it is to import the product, the government still decided to ban e-cigarette smoking in public places, after health authorities wrongly assumed that all of its varieties contain tobacco.
The e-cigarette substitutes traditional cigarettes by means of an electronic simulation of tobacco smoking. Containing neither tobacco, nor tar, it is a non-nuisance solution for passive smokers.
The device looks very much like a plastic cigarette, with a mouthpiece containing a replaceable cartridge filled with liquid containing nicotine, a solvent called propylene glycol and flavourings. Whereas three of the patent recipes contain tobacco flavourings, the variety imported to Malta is tobacco-free.
As smokers inhale, a sensor between the mouthpiece and the rod (which is actually the device’s rechargeable battery) activates a microprocessor to disperse the cartridge liquid into tiny droplets onto a small, inbuilt burner.
As the droplets sense the heat, the liquid is vapourised along with the nicotine. When the user inhales this vapour, the feeling of traditional smoking is simulated, and the vapour exhaled is somewhat similar to normal cigarette smoke – with the exception that it is odourless and it settles after a few seconds.
Those making use of it get their nicotine fix without the adverse effects of a normal cigarette. In the UK, the e-cigarette has allowed smokers to puff away happily in public spaces, legally and with no complaints from bystanders.
But while the Health Ministry has confirmed that e-cigarettes cannot be classified as medicinal products, it is still refusing to reclassify the product.
MaltaToday contacted the Health Ministry to point out that an e-cigarette recipe downloaded from the web showed that there are tobacco-free varieties, but a government official did not accept our source as reliable.
In turn, it was sent the full EU-registered patent of the product, which describes one of the recipes as completely free from tobacco.
The spokesperson assured us that the information we sent was being investigated, and that until the EU patent is recognised by the Maltese government, the legal position on e-cigarettes remains unchanged. Contacted again this week to see whether these investigations progressed in any way, the ministry was not in a position to comment.


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