E-cigarettes ‘could save millions’


Scientists say that if all smokers in the world switched from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, it could save millions of lives.

Woman smoking an electronic cigarette

In the UK there are currently about 100,000 deaths per year attributable to smoking, worldwide it is estimated to be more than five million.

Now researchers are hopeful that an increasing use of e-cigarettes could prevent some of these deaths.

But some groups warn that e-cigarettes could normalise smoking.

An estimated 700,000 users smoke e-cigarettes in the UK, according to Action on Smoking and Health. Some users combine “vaping”, as it is often called, with traditional cigarettes while others substitute it for smoking completely.

E-cigarettes have also recently be found to be just as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit.

Future hope

Rather than inhaling the toxic substances found in tobacco, e-cigarette users inhale vaporised liquid nicotine.

Robert West, professor of health psychology at University College London, told delegates at the 2013 E-Cigarette Summit at London’s Royal Society that “literally millions of lives” could be saved.

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Every adolescent tries something new, many try smoking. I would prefer they try e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes”

Dr Jacques Le Houezec Tobacco and nicotine researcher

“The big question, and why we’re here, is whether that goal can be realised and how best to do it… and what kind of cultural, regulatory environment can be put in place to make sure that’s achieved.

“I think it can be achieved but that’s a hope, a promise, not a reality,” he said.

A revolution

This view was echoed by Dr Jacques Le Houezec, a private consultant who has been researching the effects of nicotine and tobacco.

He said that because the harmful effects of its main comparator, tobacco, e-cigarette use should not be over-regulated.

“We’ve been in the field for very long, this for us is a revolution.

E-cigarettes
There is concern over the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes

“Every adolescent tries something new, many try smoking. I would prefer they try e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes.” Dr Le Houezec added.

Many are now calling for the industry to be regulated. An EU proposal to regulate e-cigarettes as a medicine was recently rejected, but in the UK e-cigarettes will be licensed as a medicine from 2016.

Konstantinos Farsalinos, from the University Hospital Gathuisberg, Belgium, said it was important for light regulation to be put in place “as soon as possible”.

“Companies are all hiding behind the lack of regulation and are not performing any tests on their products, this is a big problem.”

Prof Farsalinos studies the health impacts of e-cigarette vapour. Despite the lack of regulation, he remained positive about the health risks associated with inhaling it.

Healthy rats

E-cigarettes are still relatively new, so there is little in the way of long-term studies looking at their overall health impacts.

In order to have valid clinical data, a large group of e-cigarette users would need to be followed for many years.

Seeing as many users aim to stop smoking, following a large group of e-smokers for a long period could be difficult.

But in rats at least, a study showed that after they inhaled nicotine for two years, there were no harmful effects. This was found in a 1996 study before e-cigarettes were on the market, a study Dr Le Houezec said was reassuring.

Concern about the increase in e-cigarette use remains.

The World Health Organization advised that consumers should not use e-cigarettes until they are deemed safe. They said the potential risks “remain undetermined” and that the contents of the vapour emissions had not been thoroughly studied

Woman smoking electronic cigarette
E-cigarettes still divide opinion

The British Medical Association has called for a ban on public vaping in the same way that public smoking was banned.

They stated that a strong regulatory framework was needed to “restrict their marketing, sale and promotion so that it is only targeted at smokers as a way of cutting down and quitting, and does not appeal to non-smokers, in particular children and young people”.

Ram Moorthy, from the British Medical Association, said that their use normalises smoking behaviour.

“We don’t want that behaviour to be considered normal again and that e-cigarettes are used as an alternative for the areas that people cannot smoke,” he told BBC News.

But Lynne Dawkins, from the University of East London, said that while light-touch regulation was important, it must be treated with caution.

She said that e-cigarettes presented a “viable safer alternative” to offer to smokers.

“We don’t want to spoil this great opportunity we have for overseeing this unprecedented growth and evolving technology that has not been seen before, We have to be careful not to stump that.”

Smart Glasses Could Help Blind People Navigate


A pair of “smart glasses” might help blind people navigate an unfamiliar environment by recognizing objects or translating signs into speech, scientists say.

The majority of registered blind people have some residual ability to perceive light and motion. But assistive technologies for the visually impaired have been limited.

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Now, researchers from Oxford University in England are developing a set of sophisticated glasses that use cameras and software to detect objects and display them on the lenses of glasses. The team recently won an award from the Royal Society to continue this work. [Bionic Humans: Top 10 Technologies]

“This is the beginning of a golden age for computer vision,” study researcher Stephen Hicks said in a statement. “The Royal Society’s Brian Mercer Innovation award will allow us to incorporate this research into our glasses to help sight-impaired people deal with everyday situations much more easily.”

Here’s how the smart glasses work: Two small cameras mounted on the corners of the glasses capture two different pictures, just as human eyes do. The spectacles display information from the cameras on transparent LED displays on the lenses, so the wearer can see an enhanced image as well as use their remaining sight. Comparing the distance between the cameras reveals how far the object is from the wearer.

A set of headphones takes text and translates it into speech to provide directions or read signs aloud.

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The glasses are also equipped with a compass, a GPS and a gyroscope, a tool that measures the orientation of the glasses.

In the United Kingdom, where the research is taking place, more than 2 million people have impaired vision, and more than 300,000 are registered as blind, due to diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Moving forward, the researchers hope to develop software to provide a range of different functions that testers of the glasses say would be useful.

For example, the glasses could use levels of brightness to show depth. They could detect if a person is present based on his or her movement. In addition, the glasses might be able to read the locations or numbers of buses and provide GPS directions via the headphones.