Tag Archives: public health

Clearing Up The Smoke Around E-Cigarettes in Vancouver

Late last year, Vancouver made the controversial move to ban the use of  electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in public places where smoking is prohibited as well as their sale to minors. The controversy behind the ban was evident by the results of a poll by Metro News, where out of over 2500 of its readers, 65% of people opposed the ban.

This may be because many people think of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, similar to that of products such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum. However, it is worth noting that in Canada, only e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine can be legally sold which means that e-cigarettes may not curb cravings as well as the aforementioned nicotine containing products. Regardless, when it comes to their safety in comparison to cigarettes, opponents may be on the right track. When the Canadian Cancer Society was asked whether e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, they said, “Yes, because the products contain no tobacco, nor tobacco smoke.”


E-cigarette and Cigarettes Side By Side Source: Flickr Commons                             Credit to: TBEC Review

So if e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than cigarettes, why the big fuss? An article in the Vancouver Sun about the topic made it clear that one of main causes of concern is the effect of e-cigarettes on youth. In the article, Dr. Meena Dawar, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, says that although e-cigarettes aren’t proven to be linked to any cancers, they are quite new and the vapour they produce may still contain certain carcinogens, cytotoxic chemicals and heavy metals present in tobacco smoke. Moreover, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that high levels of formaldehyde, a cancer causing agent found in cigarettes, was present in some varieties of e-cigarettes which is a concern as it would eventually be inhaled by the user.

Lastly, an article in the Metro adresses the concern that e-cigarettes are normalizing the concept of smoking  and are diminishing the work that has gone into making smoking ‘taboo’ in our society. Additionally, proponents for the ban argue that advertising for e-cigarettes often seems to be targeted to youth in terms of the different flavours available and the ‘fun’ packaging.

The YouTube video shown below is a great summary of the potential health risks of e-cigarettes.

YouTube Preview Image

Credit:  CNN on Youtube

In summary, although there is not much conclusive evidence out there on the dangers of using e-cigarettes compared to what is out there for cigarettes, I personally support Vancouver’s decision to go ahead with the ban because e-cigarettes are relatively new and it is hard to evaluate their long term effects. Additionally, when it comes to the health of our society, I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to err on the side of caution.

Drying your hands doing more harm than good?

With the growing need to constantly be efficient in almost every aspect of our lives we could be doing more harm than good. Hand washing is considered the most simple and important procedure to prevent sickness but the method we dry our hands may be counterproductive. According to the Malaysian Journal of Pathology, electric hand dryers dispersed bacteria at a radius of 3 feet from the dryer. In the experiment by the department of Microbiology in Kuala Lumpur, Serratia marcescens (bacteria) was placed under the dryer to stimulate someone drying their hands (in a hospital setting) and the results indicated that the bacteria was blown an average of 3 feet. A more recent study done by the University of Leeds also found that electric hand dryers spread bacteria in a bathroom setting. Using paper towels does consume trees but is the trade-off worth the risk?


Picture of bacteria obtained from Flickr – credit to Cesar H.

Using an air dryer, it takes longer to dry hands relative to paper towels which means that people may not completely dry their hands. This being said, it may be possible that bacteria could grow on surface skin. Skin flora can then be transmitted from one person to another in a variety of ways such as the casual hand shake or simply by touching objects after hand washing. Someone could wash their hands and then dry them using an electric hand dryer and have bacteria blown onto their hands that will spread with contact. In other words a non-contaminated surface can become contaminated with skin flora even if the contact surface is not immediately under the dryer. Electric dryers may not only spread bacteria, it may provide an environment for growth.

Head Dryer

Picture obtained from Flickr courtesy of Walter J.

The environment that is in the inside structure of an electric hand dryer provides conditions suitable for growth of bacteria according to Dailymail. Bacteria can multiply in the electric dryer in between uses and then spread by becoming airborne when the dryer is turned on. By using electric air dryers to ultimately reduce the amount of trees that are cut down every year according to the Slate. Paper towels do not cause bacteria to become airborne but they do cause many trees every year to be cut down and are inefficient in terms of the environment. Electric air dryers do provide a good alternative to paper towels but they cause the spread of bacteria. As technology and science continue to improve hopefully a solution to this problem will be in the near future where we can protect the environment as well as ourselves at the same time. It may seem like a small part of our lives – washing and drying hands – but the consequences can potentially be severe. In the end, using electric hand dryers saves millions of trees worldwide and is worth the risk in my opinion. Below is an example video of the efficiency of electric hand dryers.

Kevin Nand