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February 5, 2013 at 10:43 PMComments: 0 Faves: 1

Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I hate smoking. Cigarettes are the common denominator for the most prevalent causes of death: cancer, heart disease, and stroke. In preventing these diseases, the most important thing I can do for my patients is to help them quit smoking. While smoking cessation has traditionally meant quitting nicotine altogether, a new form of nicotine has emerged in recent years, challenging this notion. The electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, offers users a tapered dose of nicotine to help them quit or an alternative method of nicotine delivery without the smoke. The popularity of e-cigarettes continues to rise, but are they safe? Can they help people quit smoking?  

The Tobacco Problem 

Cigarette-related deaths from cancer and cardovascular cases total over 3,000 in the United States every day. Furthermore, cigarettes will cause the death of one-third of the people who make it a habit. Nicotine, the active drug in cigarettes, has more addictive potential than prescription narcotics and illicit drugs such as crack and heroin.

The Electronic Cigarette

Though there are now several brands of e-cigarettes, the concept has remained the same. These devices take a liquid form of nicotine and turn it into an aerosol that can be inhaled. Once inhaled, the nicotine winds up in the blood stream in much the same way as smoking tobacco. The device is made reusable by purchasing replacement liquid. The liquid comes in different doses and there are even different flavors available.  

Pros of the Electronic Cigarette 

The primary benefit of the e-cigarette lies in the fact that the carcinogens and toxins contained in tobacco smoke aren't present in the inhaled vapor. Further, they don't pose the magnitude of cancer threats to the body as smoking does. No second hand smoke is created from e-cigarettes. Finally, they can be used in tapering doses to help people break their nicotine addictions.  

Cons of the Electronic Cigarette  

Like cigarettes, the e-cigarette doses nicotine into the body, a terribly addictive drug. Use of nicotine in any form leads to a physical dependance and a drive to continue receiving the drug. Since the e-cigarette is relatively new on the scene, not much research has been done linking the device with health problems. For instance, there are no studies that have shown a definitive link between e-cigarettes and cardiovascular problems such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease as with smoking.

However, studies are mixed as to the carcinogenic potential of e-cigarette vapor. On one hand, if any carcinogenic chemicals do exist, they are scant. On the other hand, any carcinogenic chemicals are too many carcinogenic chemicals in our body. 
Further criticism for e-cigarettes lies in their use. While they were originally marketed as smoking cessation tools, they quickly morphed into a habit all their own. Adds tout the fashionable nature of the e-cigarette and all the benefits, and the incorporation of different flavors has led to widespread suspicion that they are attempting to appeal to younger users (under the legal age of 18).  

The e-cigarette provides a safer alternative to smoking and may aid in breaking the habit. For those who regularly smoke e-cigarettes, at least it's safer than smoking (though its safety hasn't been absolutely confirmed). It all boils down to a case of bad, better, and best. Smoking cigarettes is bad, while using the e-cigarette is better. But, of course, it's best to not use nicotine all together.

Photo Credit:

Lindsay Fox@flickr

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