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Why Electronic Cigarettes Are Not Necessarily A Safe Alternative for Smokers

Updated on July 2, 2013
woman with e-cig. no smoke, no smell and no need to go outside to smoke.
woman with e-cig. no smoke, no smell and no need to go outside to smoke. | Source

There is a lot of interest these days in electronic cigarettes aka e-cigs or smokeless cigarettes. Many think they are a safe way for smokers to continue their habit without damaging their lungs or the lungs of others. I am only interested in knowing more about them as an ex-smoker who writes about quitting smoking. I am not selling anything and certainly am not selling smokeless cigarettes. I started researching vaping because I thought e-cigs might be useful in helping people quit smoking.

They are being advertised as a kind of nicotine replacement therapy-- a way of tapering down and eventually off nicotine. But buyer beware. While smokeless cigarettes may be a new kind of nicotine delivery system, I cannot find much online that indicates that they are a good way of tapering down and getting rid of an addiction to cigarettes.

What They Are

Electronic cigarettes are battery operated machines that look like a cigarette. They produce a vapor that,while it may not contain tar or the more than 100 carcinogens in tobacco smoke, does deliver nicotine, a strong poison and addictive substance. Inside the e-cig, the battery heats up propylene glycol or something similar into an aerosol mist carrying a dose of nicotine. The smoker inhales this mixture as he would a cigarette. Just so you know, Propylene glycol is used as solvent and emulsifier in pharmaceuticals and in such diverse products as airport de-icers, massage oil, hand sanitizers and anti-freeze. Its effect in large amounts on human beings over time is not known as no studies have been done.

Electronic cigarettes can be used with or without nicotine and the amount of nicotine you get from each puff can be a little or a lot. You get to control the dose. That's both the good news and the bad. While there may be a few " vapers" ( as people who smoke electronic cigarettes are called) sitting around smoking cloves or exotic spices, most are using nicotine and consider the e-cig a harmless substitute for their pack of Marlboros. Not so fast folks. The jury is still very much out on that one, although sales of smokeless electronic cigarettes are booming all over the world.


What E-Cigs Are Not

I cannot emphasize enough that electronic cigarettes are not a harmless replacement for cigarettes. They are just a different kind of nicotine delivery system The World Health Organization does not consider e-cigarettes a legitimate stop smoking therapy and wants to see them taken off the market pending scientific studies. Ditto the Canadian Government. The American Food and Drug Administration last year tried to ban electronic cigarettes as " unapproved pharmeceutical products" because they contained nicotine, but was forced to settle for regulating them as " tobacco products." pending more studies.

Unlike nicotine gum and lozenges, which do qualify as medical nicotine replacement therapy because they deliver a standardized dose of nicotine and are manufactured according to strict pharmaceutical standards, smokeless cigarettes vary greatly in strength of dosage and the composition of the nicotine vapor they create. Since the dose is self administered there is a real danger of nicotine poisoning as well. Those who make and sell these products will protest, just like big tobacco companies did in the 1970s because THEY WANT TO MAKE MONEY. It is as simple as that and don't forget it when you read information online posted anywhere by anyone singing the virtues of electronic cigarettes -- particularly if they are selling something or have a blog with an affiliate link.

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The Upside of Vaping

On the other hand, there are some reasons to use electronic cigarettes or to become a "vaper" .If you are a smoker who does not want to quit and who accepts that Smokeless cigarettes or e-cigs are just another nicotine delivery system whose long term effects are as yet largely unknown,there are real benefits to be had from switching from smoking to vaping, the most obvious of which is the health benefit of not inhaling the carcinogenic products of tobacco combustion into your lungs. But here are a few more to think about too:

  • no dangerous second hand smoke to hurt others
  • no tar or carcinogens from tobacco thus lower cancer risk ( probably)
  • no messy ash
  • lower cost than cigarettes
  • you can "vape" in restaurants and movie theaters and inside your office and all sorts of other public places where smoking is forbidden.
  • no need for lighters, ashtrays, and smoking paraphanalia
  • no nasty lingering dead tobacco smell on you or your clothes
  • a growing community of " vapers" to socialize with both online and off.
  • Vaping is perceived as cooler than smoking, particularly among teens and young adults

The Downside

Though E-cigs are the most popular alternative to smoking in most of the developed world, there has been very little research done on these products because they have only been around since 2003. University of California at Riverside has conducted one of the few studies out there. Examining seven popular brands of e-cigarette they found:

  • Batteries, atomizers, cartridges, cartridge wrappers, packs and instruction manuals lacked important information on content and use of the product.;
  • E-cigarette cartridges leak, which could expose children, pets and the environment to nicotine;
  • There are no methods for proper disposal of e-cigarettes products and accessories, including cartridges.As e cigs become more popular, this could result in nicotine contamination from discarded cartridges entering water sources and soil
  • The industry is totally unregulated. There is no quality control and no regulations regarding quality sales and advertising. The industry is opposing research and regulation all over the world. Buyer beware.

We do not even know how many people have successfully used them to quit a tobacco habit. Users and manufacturers claim that electronic cigarettes are a great way to get through nicotine withdrawal and wean oneself away from smoking. Professionals, including the American Cancer Society the prestigious Institute of Medicine and a number of addiction specialists are not so sure.They fear that e-cigs are to nicotine what methadone is to heroin, or antabuse to a shortcut that treats symptoms but does not get to the root of the problem itself. They also fear that the colors and flavors and the social aspects of vaping ( which can be indullged in by very young kids and is totally unregulated) will create a whole new generation of nicotine addicts who will then graduate to tobacco products.

Time will, of course, tell-- but meanwhile, one thing is clear. Electronic cigarettes may not present the same health risks as smoking tobacco, but since they are so new, and are totally unregulated, theypresent their own problems. In Florida, recently, an electronic cigarette exploded in a man's mouth and did serious damage.

While some claim to have successfully use them to quit a tobacco habit, many more continue to both vape and smoke and enjoy vaping socially and in places where smoking is not possible. I would be very interested in seeing reliable unbiased studies done on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a means of quitting smoking and would be most interested in comments from those who have had success.

The bottom line is that nicotine addiction is not a good thing and is never harmless in any form from cigars and cigarettes to electronic cigarettes and nicotine lozenges. Electronic cigarettes may be helpful to some people trying to quit smoking and they may offer others pleasure and recreation, but they are not and never will be a healthy choice for human beings. The best thing anybody can do is to get off nicotine in any form completely or never start taking it in the first place.


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