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E-cigarettes and the need and opportunities for alternatives to animal testing

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Thomas Hartung
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), Baltimore, MD, USA, and CAAT-Europe, University of Konstanz, Germany

E-cigarettes have become within only one decade an important commodity, changing the market of the most mass-killing commercial product. While a few years ago estimates suggested that in the course of the 21st century one billion people would die prematurely from tobacco consumption, e-cigarettes continuously gaining popularity promise 10-30fold lower health effects, possibly strongly changing this equation.

However, they still are not a harmless life-style drug. Acceptability simply depends on whether we compare their use to smoking or to not-smoking. In the absence of long-term follow-up health data of users, additional uncertainty comes from the lack of safety data, though this uncertainty likely only is whether they represent 3 or 10% of the risk of their combustible counterpart. This means that there is little doubt that they represent a prime opportunity for smokers to switch, but also that their use by non-smokers should be avoided where possible.

The real safety concerns, however, are that e-cigarettes expose their users to many compounds, contaminants and especially flavors (more than 7,000 according to recent counts), which have mostly not been tested, especially not for long-term inhalation exposure. Neither the precautionary traditional animal testing nor post-marketing surveillance will offer us data of sufficient quality or sufficiently fast to support product development and regulatory decisions. Thus, alterĀ­native methods lend themselves to fill this gap, making this new product category a possible engine for new method development and its implementation and validation.


Keywords: tobacco, electronic cigarettes, safety testing, alternative methods, non-animal methods


ALTEX 33(3), 211-224

doi: 10.14573/altex.1606291

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