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E-cigarettes: Safe alternative or high-tech health risk?

Riddle Hospital May 12, 2015 General Wellness By Barbara Siso

e-cigarette useIn recent years, the electronic cigarette craze has reached almost everyone. Every age group, from middle school students to teenagers to adults has been seduced into believing the promise that e-cigarettes are a safer smoking alternative.

Consider the numbers:

  • From 2010–13, the number of adults who reported having used an e-cigarette increased in nearly every demographic group
  • The number of students in grades six to 12 who reported having used an e-cigarette more than doubled from 2011 to 2013
  • The use of e-cigarettes among high school students tripled from 2011 to 2013

Currently, the health consequences of using e-cigarettes and of exposure to secondhand emissions are unknown. Additional research is needed to determine the long-term health effects and safety of these devices. But, before you decide to ditch your tobacco habit in favor of e-cigarettes or 'vaping', consider these facts:

They aren’t regulated

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the sale or use of e-cigarettes, nor have they approved the devices as a safe or effective method to help smokers quit.

In response to their growing popularity, the FDA proposed regulatory authority over e-cigarettes and other unregulated tobacco products, including cigars, pipe tobacco, and several other tobacco products not currently under its jurisdiction. Should these regulations pass, these products would be required to have federal warning labels, and manufacturers would be required to register with the FDA and seek the agency's review of any new tobacco products. Another significant mandate would prohibit the sale of these products to minors, as well as free samples.

Although this process has been set in motion, it will likely take at least a year, if not longer. Until the FDA has full authority over e-cigarette devices, it’s important to consider an alternative to traditional cigarettes or as a cessation aid.

They won’t help you quit

For those who are trying to quit smoking, switching to e-cigarettes can seem like an effective way to kick the habit. But a 2014 study in the journal Cancer says that’s not the case. The study found that among cancer patients enrolled in a smoking cessation program, e-cigarette users were as likely or less likely as those who did not use e-cigarettes to still be smoking.

Instead of e-cigarettes, the FDA has identified seven first-line medications which, in combinations with individual, group, and phone cessation counseling, have all been shown to be effective cessation methods.

They contain toxic ingredients

Although many users prefer e-cigarettes because they contain no nicotine and appear to contain safer ingredients than traditional cigarettes, this is a marketing ploy. Flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear, and bubble gum can mask the real ingredients and target young users.

In 2009, the FDA found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, including an ingredient used in anti-freeze, in two leading brands of e-cigarettes and 18 e-cigarette cartridges. The lab also detected that cartridges that had been labeled as nicotine-free had traceable levels of nicotine. Two preliminary studies have also found that the aerosol emitted from e-cigarettes have been shown to contain formaldehyde, benzene, and nitrosamines, a known carcinogen.

It’s important to be fully informed before trying these devices, because the impact to your health is a risk no one can afford to take.

Trying to quit smoking? Our event calendar has a list of upcoming SmokeFREE tobacco cessation classes.

Barbara Siso is a tobacco treatment counselor at Riddle Hospital.