RKI: Smoking still the biggest health risk – Are e-cigarettes and tobacco heaters good alternatives?

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Latest data on smoking behaviour in Germany
How many more people are smoking? In which groups is smoking most common? What are the dangers of e-cigarettes? How many people fall ill and die as a result of smoking in Germany? These and other questions were addressed by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in a recent study.

According to the Institute, smoking will continue to be the most dangerous avoidable cause of chronic illness and premature death in 2018. For this reason, the behaviour of smokers is the central topic of the current Federal Health Sheet of the Robert Koch Institute.

Smoking and cancer
As the RKI reports, it can take several decades before changes in smoking behaviour in the population groups are reflected in cancer cases. In 2010, 72,000 cancer cases were attributed to smoking. According to the RKI, this corresponds to 23 percent of all new cancer cases among men and eight percent among women.

Number of smokers declines
“Since the beginning of the 1990s, the proportion of smokers has been falling in almost all age groups,” write the RKI experts. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the decline in the younger age groups has been particularly marked. The RKI attributes this decline mainly to numerous tobacco prevention campaigns and measures, such as the ban on advertising and smoking bans in public areas.

Prevention still important
“Nevertheless, due to the still high proportion of smokers, massive health consequences from tobacco consumption among the population can still be expected in the medium term”, emphasises RKI President Lothar H. Wieler in a press release. Therefore one must promote both measures of the tobacco prevention and to the quitting of smoking. Wieler argues that more modern media should be used for this purpose. As an example he cites the “Smokerface-App”, which uses a selfies to calculate how smoking changes the face over time.

Are e-cigarettes a suitable alternative?
E-cigarettes and tobacco heaters have become increasingly popular in recent years. Although these electronic inhalation products absorb fewer harmful substances than conventional tobacco cigarettes, the RKI researchers warn that “health risks and the potential for addiction remain”.

Are tobacco heaters less harmful than e-cigarettes?
Tobacco heater manufacturers claim that the devices are even less harmful than e-cigarettes because no chemical vapour is inhaled from a liquid. Instead, ordinary tobacco is heated to about 350 degrees Celsius. A research team from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) analyzed the amount of toxic substances produced during the operation of a tobacco heater system and compared them with conventional cigarettes. This analysis showed that tobacco heaters actually produce significantly fewer pollutants. According to the BfR, heating produces 80 to 95 percent less aldehydes and 97 to 99 percent less volatile organic compounds.

Fewer pollutants, but addiction persists
“Heating tobacco produces considerably fewer carcinogens,” concludes the BfR. However, the nicotine content released is comparable to that of a conventional cigarette. A tobacco heater is therefore only suitable to a limited extent for combating addiction. You can find help to quit smoking in the article “quitting smoking”. (vb)

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