COUNCILLORS have raised concerns about the long-term health impact of a popular replacement for cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, used by smokers to help them kick the habit, were discussed by councillors in Hartlepool at a recent meeting about efforts to cut the numbers of residents lighting up.
E-cigs have caused controversy since hitting the market, with many people viewing the tobacco-free devices as a better alternative to traditional cigarettes.
But health experts remain deeply concerned about the long-term effects they could have on users’ health.
The devices provide a hit of nicotine – a highly addictive drug – and some fear they reinforce the behaviour of smoking, making it harder to give up in the long term.
Carole Johnson, head of health improvement at Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “There is just no regulation.”
Labour councillor Rob Cook added: “We don’t know what harm the product might be doing.
“I am surprised the Government is allowing them to be sold, because tablets and drugs always go through tests and surveys first.”
Mrs Johnson, who said e-cigs were not being marketed as medicine, added that part of the concern was that by using them, smokers are not breaking the physical habit of smoking.
Labour councillor Carl Richardson added: “We don’t know what the long-term damage might be because we haven’t had time to analyse it.
“The problem is, it is a growing market now.”
The concerns were raised at a meeting of the finance and policy committee, which had met to discuss plans by Hartlepool’s Smoke Free Alliance to make all public playgrounds in Hartlepool smoke-free to prevent youngsters taking up smoking.
The alliance is working towards the goal as part of its annual action plan.
The multi-partner agency says preventing children in town from taking up the habit is one of its top priorities as it tries to drive down Hartlepool’s high smoking rates.
Hartlepool Smoke Free Alliance is co-ordinated by Hartlepool Borough Council and representatives include the stop smoking service, hospital trust, health commissioners, anti-smoking group Fresh North East and Healthwatch Hartlepool.
Smoking rates in Hartlepool have fallen since 2005, but an estimated 17,200 adults (23.5 per cent) still smoke.