By Hennie Pretorius, journalist, Justmoney
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), many believe, is a healthier way of ‘smoking’ compared to the more conventional method as no tobacco (tar) is consumed and no smoke ‘particulate’ or carbon monoxide is produced.
An e-cigarette is operated by a rechargeable battery containing liquid nicotine which is converted into vapour before being inhaled. Manufacturers also offer nicotine free liquid and various flavours such as cherry, mint, berry and vanilla.
Edutainment website, HowStuffWorks (HSW), reported that in some instances consumers have claimed smoking e-cigarettes over conventional smoking has improved their way of life, reducing smokers cough and even helping them to sleep better at night.
It is a proven fact that smoking cigarettes is unealthy. Ryan Chegwidden, executive head, product and technical at Altrisk says it is “the greatest avoidable cause of premature death and disability in the world.”
Quitting smoking is not only beneficial to one’s health – it can also boost your savings. When it comes to premiums paid on life-insurance, for example, non-smokers pay on average about 40% - 50% less than smokers.
“Smoking has a significant effect on risk insurance and the premiums that you will pay. The reality is that the health and financial burden of smoking is a lot more extensive than most people realise, and there’s growing evidence to show that the effects of smoking on health may soon mean that smokers will be paying even higher rates for cover compared to non-smokers in future,” says Chegwidden.
What about e-cigarettes?
One of the first questions asked when filling out an application for life insurance or medical aid is whether or not you are a smoker.
Laurence Hillman, managing director for life insurance provider 1Life, clarifies the distinction between a smoker and a non-smoker in the following way: “If, in the past 12 months, you have had any product that contains nicotine or tobacco, you will be classified as a smoker.”
Dr Pieter Coetzer, chief medical adviser at Sanlam, concurs: “We have at Sanlam recently adapted the application questionnaire we give to clients to include a question on e-cigarette use along with traditional tobacco products. You will only be deemed a non-smoker if you have not used any of these products for longer than 12 months – this includes products such as nicotine patches and chewing gum.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that e-cigarettes are tobacco free, but not necessarily nicotine free. This would mean, even if you have changed to smoking e-cigarettes, you would have to tick the ‘I am a smoker’ box when filling out your application form.
Dr Coetzer explains: “The only thing that distinguishes e-cigarettes from traditional cigarettes is that they do not contain tar. In most cases they still contain nicotine in liquid form, and various chemicals, some of which are used to vapourise the liquid.
“In fact, e-cigarettes may even contain more toxic chemicals than regular cigarettes. So even though the vapour is tobacco free, it is probable that using e-cigarettes can still increase a user’s risk of cancer and other serious illnesses such as heart disease and stroke.”
The controversy around e-cigarettes:
There is not enough convincing evidence to prove e-cigarettes are healthier than conventional smoking.
In some instances where labels have read ‘nicotine free’, subsequent tests revealed traces of nicotine in the product.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found traces of “carcinogens and toxic chemicals” harmful to humans when testing the product. There testing was limited to two leading brands currently on the market.
Coetzer’s concern is e-cigarettes may be luring non-smokers into the habit: “Smoking laws have brought down the number of smokers worldwide, and we are concerned that e-cigarettes, which are often appealingly flavored, may open a new gateway to smoking for especially the younger generation.
“None of our underwriting policies are cast in stone – if it is scientifically shown that e-cigarettes do not increase users’ risks of contracting dreaded diseases such as cancer, we will certainly relook our policy and pricing model,” says Coetzer.
How much will smoking e-cigarettes set you back?
Dutch engineered brand Twisp costs R700 for the starter pack which includes an e-cigarette, filter and 5ml of liquid.
Refill packs consisting of 20ml liquid costs R200, which on average will last a week, depending on how much you smoke.
The filter needs to be replaced once a week, again depending on how much you smoke, and costs R40 each.
The rechargeable lithium-ion battery can last as long as a year. It takes four hours to charge and gives you up to a week of use.
Philip Bartholomew from Twisp points out that nicotine itself is similar to caffeine in its effects on the body and is not responsible for the “critical adverse health effects related to smoking.”
Bartholomew referred to a comment made by Professor John Britton from the Royal College of Physicians: “If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes, we would save five million deaths in people who are alive today.”
“It is noteworthy that in the recently published medical study on Twisp, the cotinine levels (the test that insurers perform to assess smokers) is vastly reduced, showing that Twisp users have far less residual nicotine. This leads us to believe if you are using Twisp and no longer smoking you are a non-smoker,” concludes Bartholomew.
It appears that smoking e-cigarettes is still classified as ‘smoking’, so if you want to give up smoking for health reasons or to save money on your insurance premiums you should refrain from any kind of smoking including e-cigarettes. Rather save the money you would have used for buying cigarettes or use it to pay off your loans or bond.