What You Should Know About Electronic Cigarettes

You see them advertised on television, at the checkout counter of your neighborhood mini-market or gas station, on billboards and now you can find specialty “Vapor” shops, all marketing Electronic Cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes” have been in the U.S since 2006 and are becoming a popular replacement for tobacco smoking due to smoke-free laws banning tobacco use in public places and because more people who smoke want to quit. But, are electronic cigarettes safe? What is known about electronic cigarettes and do they help people stop smoking tobacco? The answers to these questions range from, “we don’t know” to “maybe”.

Electronic cigarettes are designed to mimic smoking a tobacco product such as cigarette, cigar or pipe. They are a type of nicotine delivery system without the need to “light up”. Nicotine is the substance that the body craves when someone starts smoking tobacco causing tobacco addiction. These electronic smoking type devices have an LED light that simulates lit tobacco during puffing, while an internal heating element operated by a battery vaporizes liquid nicotine contained in a cartridge. The user exhales a vapor similar to that of smoking tobacco.

The nicotine inside electronic cigarettes comes in a variety of flavors and colors. This has been mistaken as a type of flavored drink by small children. There are reports of children becoming poisoned by drinking the flavored nicotine liquid. Studies have also shown that adolescents and teens have reported using electronic cigarettes which experts fear will lead youth to the use of traditional tobacco products.

The safety of electronic cigarettes is not clear. The components of e-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA.  Some studies have shown that products labeled as without nicotine actually did have nicotine and studies have also identified toxins and cancer causing substances present in the vapor of e-cigarettes causing health problems like increased risk for lung infections and reduced lung capacity. The long term effects of e-cigarette use is unknown because they are new and no long term studies have been completed.

Many people use electronic cigarettes as a way to stop smoking tobacco cigarettes. While there are studies that show some people are able to stop smoking tobacco, they continue to use electronic cigarettes and have an increased risk for health problems related to e-cigarette use. Studies have also shown people who use electronic cigarettes as a way to stop smoking tobacco have a higher rate of relapse and restart tobacco use. Some people have reported dual use of both e-cigarettes and tobacco products raising the concern about the long term use and health risks of using both products.

In summary, there is much more research that needs to be completed to learn about the effects of electronic cigarette before it can be said that e-cigarettes are harmful or safe for people and if they can help people stop smoking tobacco. Initial reports suggest more harm than good. The most important message is if you don’t smoke tobacco or use electronic cigarette type products don’t start and if you do, talk to your Health Care Provider about proven methods and resources available to help you quit.

HealthNet has a Tobacco Cessation Coordinator that can help you quit smoking. We can also help with free nicotine replacement therapy, like the patch or gum if you need it. Make a FREE appointment at a HealthNet Health Center near you today! 

Post by Dan Wilson, RRT, CPFT, AE-C

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