Electronic Cigarettes: Are they safer than conventional tobacco cigarettes or simply a high-tech way to attract and addict a new generation to nicotine?

There are many unanswered questions regarding electronic cigarettes. The research needed to address these issues lags behind the marketing of these products. E-cigarettes have been marketed as smoking cessation aids, but there is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are successful as long-term quitting aids. However, one thing is for sure, teens are being sucked into using the devices to smoke highly addictive nicotine.

The number of youth using these products doubled and continues to increase each year. “The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”


What are E-Cigarettes and How Does it Work?

E-cigarettes are devices that turn nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals into vapor that you inhale (smoke or “vape”). E-cigarettes are tobacco products.

Many e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes. Others look like everyday objects like pens or small flashlights.

These devices come in many designs and use a battery-operated heating element that changes the liquid into a vapor. The product features and costs vary; some are disposable and others have a rechargeable battery and refillable cartridges. The electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) also include electronic cigars (e-cigars) and electronic hookahs (e-hookahs).

They come in a variety of colors, and the e-liquid comes in different flavors. Companies sell flavored nicotine solutions in wide array of flavors, many of which are candy/fruit flavors, including vanilla, banana, almond, vanilla ice cream, cherry, mint, peach cobbler, and mint chocolate, which may appeal to youth.

The replaceable chemical cartridges may or may not contain nicotine and/or flavorings. The amount of nicotine varies widely based on cartridge brand and strength, but is generally 6-18mg nicotine per cartridge, equivalent to about ½ of a pack to 1 ½ packs of cigarettes.


Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe?

The safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes are not fully understood, and there is no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are safer or more effective than U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved methods.

The nicotine inside the cartridges is addictive and could produce withdrawal symptoms including irritability, depression, restlessness and anxiety when stopped.

Electronic nicotine delivery systems can be dangerous for people with heart problems. Research shows that nicotine affects the brain’s neurotransmitters; in short, nicotine rewires your brain. Soon your brain's chemical structure actually changes, and receptors demand more and more nicotine to make the “good feeling” last.

Former smokers and new smokers may be attracted to E-cigarettes because of unproven claims that they are safer and more accepted than traditional cigarettes.


Can E-Cigarettes Help Someone Stop Smoking?

There are no clinical guidelines that recommend the use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. Electronic cigarettes have not been approved as a stop smoking treatment by the FDA. Promotion of these products as a cessation aid without approval of the FDA is prohibited.

There are seven first line medications that the FDA has approved for treating tobacco use addiction, and e-cigarettes are not one of them.

Smokers wanting to quit should contact a health care provider for assistance and call 1-800-Quit-Now for evidence-based support, advice and resources.


Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women Should Not Use E-Cigarettes

  • There is no safe level of nicotine for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • There are health risks to infants of mothers who use E-cigarettes. E-cigarettes can cause some of the same negative health impacts as traditional cigarettes for developing fetuses and infants.
  • Nicotine passes from mother to child in the womb, and through breast milk.
  • Nicotine stays in the bodies of mothers and babies. Babies can test positive for nicotine after being exposed.
  • Babies exposed to nicotine can have problems with feeding, and may have delayed mental and physical development. Nicotine can harm brain development, or cause impaired learning, attention deficit, and memory loss in infants and children.


What About the Vapor?

E-cigarettes do not just emit water vapor. Secondhand e-cigarette aerosol contains nicotine, ultrafine particles and low levels of toxins that are known to cause cancer.

Exposure to fine and ultrafine particles may exacerbate respiratory ailments like asthma, and constrict arteries which could trigger a heart attack.


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