Despite their increasing usage and claims that they help smokers quit, the question – are electronic cigarettes harmful – is an important and valid one. Yes – the question is valid even though those battery-operated devices are supposed to be a safer alternative to smoking? After all, they convey into the respiratory tract of users, vaporized nicotine for the most part, with fewer other toxins and in lower amounts than tobacco smoke. Plus, they don’t pose the problem of secondhand smoke and health hazards to others. That’s why many employers that band cigarette smoking allow employees to smoke e-cigarettes.
Until recently the main controversy was whether or not e-cigarettes really help smokers to quit. In light of findings of a new study though, the more paramount question is – are electronic cigarettes harmful. The study which justifies this question is a survey conducted from 2011 through 2012 on 6th through 12th grade adolescents. During the study students filled out surveys with questions about their tobacco-related habits and their attitudes toward tobacco use. 18,856 students responded to questionnaires in 2011 and 24,658 responded in 2012. The mean age of the students was 14.7 years. The group was equally divided gender wise and consisted of approximately 56.6% of non-Hispanic Caucasians.
The study showed that from 2011 to 2012 the use of electronic cigarettes doubled and that most of the teens who smoked electronic cigarettes smoked regular cigarettes in conjunction. Other studies evaluating the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes in smoking cessation have yielded mixed results. But many have reached the same conclusions as this study – they don’t help smokers quit.
The results of this study also fly in the face of the claim that electronic cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking. That’s because the results of this study revealed smokers of e-cigarettes were seven times more likely to be smokers of conventional cigarettes also. That being the case, the increased rate of tobacco use among e-cigarette smokers carries with it the same harmful effects of smoking. They include an increased risk of the development of heart disease, cancer and COPD, the three leading causes of death in that order, in the United States. In light of the results of this recently released study report, it is no wonder that the FDA recently decided to regulate e-cigarettes, not as a pharmaceutical, but as a tobacco product.
The primary ingredients in e-cigarettes other than nicotine, i.e. propylene glycol and glycerin, are food additives considered to be safe for swallowing, but no one knows whether or not it is safe to inhale them. Moreover, the sweet flavored vapors that many vendors offer are probably partly responsible for enticing use of the devices and at an earlier age.
A daunting concern of mine is the dangers that the devices might pose as paraphernalia for illicit drug use, particularly among adolescents. Some manufacturers offer liquid dropper bottle refills is a much cheaper alternative to buying pre-filled nicotine replacement cartridges. In the wrong hands and with a warped motive the potential for serious abuse is obvious.
Because of aggressive marketing campaigns e-cigarette use doubled among adolescents and increased almost to the same degree in adults between 2011 in 2012. The message and outlook have been positive. But reality bears prudent consideration.