Are E-cigarettes a Safe Alternative to Tobacco Smoke?

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A regular cigarette (top) compared to an e-cigarette. Image by TH; Original uploader was Horsten

A regular cigarette (top) compared to an e-cigarette. Image by TH; Original uploader was Horsten

Electronic cigarettes are becoming popular among American smokers; according to USA Today, about 21 percent of adult smokers tried them in 2011, which is twice as many people trying them than in 2010.

Smokers use e-cigarettes are used as a replacement for real cigarettes, in hopes of quitting – or in areas where they’re not allowed to smoke.

Are e-cigarettes safe, and could they help you quit smoking?

E-Cigarette Regulations

Reusable, battery-operated e-cigarettes work by heating a liquid nicotine solution, turning the nicotine into vapor that the user inhales. The vapors can release a nicotine flavor, or other flavors such as strawberry, cherry, and cookies and cream milkshake, according to the Boston Globe.

Since e-cigarettes aren’t a tobacco product, in many parts of the U.S. kids and teenagers can purchase these e-cigarettes – and anyone can buy them online legally.

However, even though the electronic nicotine delivery system doesn’t contain the same chemicals and toxins as a regular cigarette, it still contains some harmful chemicals.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release in 2009 stating that samples from some of the e-cigarettes contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, which is used in antifreeze.

It is also important to know that these products have not been approved by the FDA; however, the FDA will step in and begin regulating these products just like tobacco products in the near future.

Exploding E-Cigarettes?

Since the e-cigarette is not regulated by the FDA, we don’t know how much nicotine or other chemicals are in these electronic devices. In addition, there have been multiple reports of e-cigarettes exploding.

CBS Los Angeles reports that the battery for an e-cigarette began dripping while charging in the car- when the owner unplugged it, the e-cigarette caught on fire and shot metal pieces onto her lap, catching her dress on fire. The woman got second degree burns on the back of her upper thighs and on the lower buttocks.

ABC News reports a 2012 incident, in which a Florida man was smoking the e-cigarette when it exploded. The explosion knocked out part of his teeth, amputated part of his tongue, and set fire to the room.

E-cigarettes can come in a variety of flavorsas well as nicotine. Photo by Lauri Rantala

E-cigarettes can come in a variety of flavorsas well as nicotine. Photo by Lauri Rantala

Inhaling Vaporized Nicoting: Health Hazards

Although it may seem like these e-cigarettes don’t cause harm like the regular cigarettes, scientists in Greece are finding that they can harm your lungs.

The researchers had 32 volunteers; eight of the volunteers had never smoked, and 24 of them were current regular smokers. Some of the volunteers had asthma and COPD, while others had completely health lungs.

All of the volunteers were asked to use the e-cigarette for 10 minutes. Afterwards, researchers used a spirometry test to measure the breath, and other diagnostic procedures to measure the airway resistance of the volunteers.

The researchers found that among the nonsmokers, using an e-cigarette for just 10 minutes raised their airway resistance to an average of 206 percent from 186 percent. Among the current regular smokers, airway resistance increased from 176 percent to 220 percent after just ten minutes.

E-Cigarettes: Hazardous – But Possibly Helpful For Quitters

So are the potential health effects of e-cigarettes better than the regular cigarette? In a 2011 study from the Boston University School of Public Health, researchers found that out of 222 people, 67 percent said that they smoked less after using an e-cigarette and 31 percent said that they stopped smoking cigarettes.

We need clinical trials to determine the short and long term health effects of e-cigarettes, whether they actually do help people cut down on smoking or quit all together – and whether the risks outweigh the benefits of this new technology.

Resources:

ABC News. Man Suffers Severe Injuries After E-Cigarette Explodes in His Mouth. (2012). Accessed September 4, 2013.

CBS Los Angeles News. Corona Couple Sues After E-Cigarette Battery Explodes In Car. (2013). Accessed September 4, 2013.

Food and Drug Administration. Electronic Cigarettes. (2013). Accessed September 4, 2013.

Boston Globe. E-cigarettes may have a place — just not with minors. (2013). Accessed September 4, 2013.

Food and Drug Administration. FDA and Public Health Experts Warn About Electronic Cigarettes. (2009). Accessed September 4, 2013.

Medical News Today. Electronic cigarettes harm lungs. September 3, 2012.

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