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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.

Opinions on E-cigarettes

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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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    • profile image

      Djx 4 years ago

      Have been vaping now for 6 weeks and have not touched a regular cigarette since. I was a pack to a pack n half per day smoker for 20 years. Eliminated all the lung cookies and swollen sinuses. Was an easy rapid transition between e-cigs and regular; never had to touch a regular again. Now going from 18 mg to 12 mg. The plan is to decrease consumption, but it may now be a new habit as the overall act and buzz is very enjoyable. I think it is a part of the human make up to become, alcohol, sex, running, tv, Facebook, blogs...however, I would highly recommend e-cigs to any smoker trying to quit...just realize that you will need to keep working on giving up the e-cig also. Still has to be better than regular smoking and it will provide one with inspiration and the belief that you can really is the perfect first step. Also the "throat hit" is the key, the very slight burn and the brief lack or depleted oxygen in the lungs is what gets you hooked, it's the signal that a buzz is coming. Finally the look alike e-cigs with the little light tip don't work, it will make a smoker frustrated and you will spend just much money or go back to regular. Get a refillable vape pen product at least. One more; the vape community is really great, they want you to succeed and are some of the most excited about the product, both sellers and users. Dude, I quit cigarettes...

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks Wolf.... I might also add that its effect on human lungs when inhaled is at this point unknown. When I started to smoke cigarettes, back in the Stone Age, nobody knew that nicotine was addictive or that cigarette smoke caused cancer...... live and learn.

    • profile image

      Wolf Kermek 4 years ago

      Propylene Glycol is used in de-icers because it can lower the freezing point of water. It is also used in foods.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks Steve for posting your positive experience with vaping. I am all for people quitting cigarettes and getting unhooked from nicotine no matter how they do it. Glad to know it worked for you. Thanks too for the additional information. I saw it mentioned somewhere that e-cigs originated in China, but had no idea it was as early as 1960. Not sure I understand about the good liquid you mention, but I take it that is is safe and that is good. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    • profile image

      Steve 4 years ago

      Thanks for posting. I enjoyed the article. I smoked 30 cigarettes a day for 15 years and started vaping 9 months ago. I started with 24mg juice and now use zero. In the begging 10ml juice lasted 5 days. Now it lasts me a month. I have not had any desire to smoke a cigarette in this time. I strongly agree that manufacture of ejuice should be closely monitored as not all can be trusted. I also agree with restrictions regarding age but I haven't seen much interest from anyone who isn't already a smoker. Over all it's been a huge success for me. Final note. The first ecigs were invented in China in 1960 and good liquid contains pgvg based then natural food flavouring. These are ingredients from nebulizers which treat chronic lung diseases

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

      No Jennifer I don't vape. I am an ex smoker and this hub is truly impartial and based on research regarding the usefulness of e-cigs as a means of quitting cigarettes. It has nothing to do with teenagers ( unless they are trying to use e-cigs as a way to quit cigarettes) The facts of the matter apply to people of all ages. I've never seen a teenager with one either, but then I've only seen one or two in my whole life and they were being used by adults. Notice the photo in the hub is of a grandmother smoking an e-cig. I'm not trying to tell anybody what to do, I am just pointing out the pitfalls.

    • profile image

      Jennifer 4 years ago

      Do you vape???

      I have NEVER seen a teenager with one. I have never heard a teenager talk about them....and I have 3.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi EdT and congrats on cutting down so drastically on the nicotine. I'm glad e-cigs are working for you and thanks for sharing your story, and pointing out the benefits of vaping as opposed to smoking cigarettes. But of course, you are entitled to switch your habit to something that you feel is a better choice. I just think you should make an informed choice :-) I wouldn't worry too much about the government banning e-cigs. They can't even manage to get Marlboros off the market, so I don't think you have anything to worry about. E-cigs are here to stay and there is too much money to be made by getting people hooked on them for anybody to want to ban them. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • profile image

      EdT 4 years ago

      I have been using an e-cig for around 6 months now, (shorter periods in the past with devices that are not as good as my current.) I'm 23 years old and started smoking cigarettes around age 13, I tried multiple times to quit using various methods such as; patches, nic. gun, chantex and drug free methods like chewing on straws, all led back to tobacco of some sort (dip or cigs). I'm not going to speak to the safety claims of e-cigs because of the lack of proof either way. What I do know is; I haven't had a cig in 6 months, I've had 3 pitches of dip in that timeframe (all in one night because I didn't have my e-cig charger), my clothes don't stink, nor does my house or my car, I'm not spending 5 dollars a day on my habit (now probably 50 cents, just a guess), and one of my most proud benefits is that I have dropped my nicotine level from 24mgs (said to be the equivalent to smoking full flavor cigs) to 12mgs. Since I switched I feel that I can breath better also. Oh, and they taste MUCH better. I don't think children should be able to buy them, but, I did start smoking at 13 and that wasn't legal. Fact is, the USA is a free country and I'm an adult, I should have the right to switch my habit to something that I feel is a better choice if I please. I hope this helps you gather information and I appreciate you doing all of that research, I am curious about the risks but I don't plan on quitting vaping until I'm truly ready, not when the govt. says too. I'm keeping bulk e-juice just in case. Lol.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience with e-cigs here. They seem to work very well for you . Yours is just the sort of experience I am interested in hearing about. Totally agree about regulation and research needed, especially for use by kids under 18. And am still really interested in the potential and dangers of using e-cigs to quit smoking altogether. The jury is still out on that for sure. Thanks again .

    • profile image

      Carl 5 years ago

      This is a very informative article. First, I am not selling E-cigs and have no financial motive here. I started vaping because regular cigarettes were killing my wallet, not to mention my lungs. I'm not really interested in quitting nicotine, just inhaling tobacco smoke. I do think the e-liquid that contains nicotine should come in regular and menthol tobacco flavors only to prevent kids from possibly getting a nicotine habit by vaping chocolate e-liquid with nicotine.

      I received my device on a saturday evening. It was there when I got home from work. I had been rolling my own and had an extra pouch of tobacco which would last me less than a day.

      That extra pouch lasted me 4 days (unheard of in my case) and the only reason I smoked the tobacco is cause it was there. In the last 2 days I haven't smoked 1 regular cigarette and don't want to so long as I can get my nicotine through vaping.

      However, having said that, anyone who says that these are harmless are either lying or deluded (unless e-liquid without nicotine is used). And they do contain carcinogins. Not many, but they are there. Nicotine is a tobacco product and contains Tobacco Specific Nitro Samines. These TSNS's *are* carcinogins. However, you are getting a couple of dozen molecules with an e-cigarette. A regular cigarette you burn contains upwards of 100,000 TSNS molecules. So E-cigs aren't safe, but appear to be a whole lot safer than cigarettes. I'm able to breathe easier after 4 days of cutting tobacco drastically and 2 days of smoking not at all. They do need to be retulated so those under 18 aren't allowed to purchase the devices or at the least those under 18 can't purchase nicotine infused e-liquid.

    • millermoto profile image

      millermoto 5 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I have a friend in ICU with pneumonia who may not make it. I have lost countless friends to cigarettes. It's easy for folks to say 'just quit'. But the reality is that people are dying and e-cigs are saving many lives. Discouraging hardcore smokers from switching to e-cigs may not be a good idea, especially when there has been no real evidence of harm, and since the alternatives are known to be deadly or expensive and ineffective.

      "Both sides in the debate agree that e-cigarettes should be studied more thoroughly and subjected to tighter regulation, including quality-control standards and a ban on sales to minors. But the harm-reduction side, which includes the American Association of Public Health Physicians and the American Council on Science and Health, sees no reason to prevent adults from using e-cigarettes. In Britain, the Royal College of Physicians has denounced “irrational and immoral” regulations inhibiting the introduction of safer nicotine-delivery devices."

      “Nicotine itself is not especially hazardous,” the British medical society concluded in 2007. “If nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved.”

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thank you prasadjain for such a positive comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub

    • prasadjain profile image

      Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD 5 years ago from Tumkur

      A very useful article that breaks many myths about e-cig.The best thing in life is that, that we should not get into any bad habit. A heartful liking for simple life can help us to keep ourselves off from many bad habits and thoughts.

    • profile image

      testing123 5 years ago

      Great article. I only have one problem. Coming from a smoker of both cigs and ecigs I just hate it when one says that so and so is used in so and so. For instance water, water is used in rat poison and drain cleaner... but we know that water alone is safe.

    • winbo profile image

      winbo 6 years ago

      Very interesting Hub. Till today -- I had no idea about it.thanks for sharing. Great JOB

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks Keri-- I'm glad you liked the hub and particularly glad you found the information useful and balanced. Thanks for your comment.

    • Keri Summers profile image

      Keri Summers 6 years ago from West of England

      I'm not a smoker, but v interested in public health and regulation. Really good information, with balance. Great use of a Hub.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks guys-- glad you found this informative and thank you for commenting and sharing. Misty-- I think I will go over and have a look at nicotine solutions. Sounds like a website worth recommending.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 6 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      As someone who stopped smoking three+ years ago based on a course that simply worked on a psychological basis, I can say I am unimpressed by e cigarettes, not least because they usually continue to feed the nicotine addiction, they fail to break the hand to mouth habit of smoking and they still encourage you to maintain the inhaling habit.

      I am now smoke free for 3 years thanks to Lela Bryan ( a fellow hubber) and she has a website at that I am featured in the opening video for as one of her success stories.

      This hub has been so impressive I have shared it on a forum thread on the question of e cigarettes.

      Well done, this message is important to get across.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Robie, that is a lot of good information that show the pros and cons. The cons are many that most people do not know. Thanks for sharing!! Votes and shared! :-)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      and thank you for reading and commenting:-)

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 6 years ago from India

      I was not at all aware of the existence of these "Electronic Cigarettes".

      Thank you for educating me.

      Thanks for SHARING:)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks Enelle--really interested in hearing from people using e-cigs without nicotine. I hope it is working well for your boyfriend--feel free to post results or observations here-- I'm really interested. There is so little real information about e-cigs around and so much spam.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Excellent information - I bought a variety of an e-cig for my b/f to help him quit smoking. This particular brand has no nicotine, and uses flavored cartridges instead. It still had the battery operated atomizer, but the vapor is less harmful than the ones that contain nicotine.

      I bought it as a supplement to help him with the 'habit' of smoking.

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 6 years ago from United States

      Good information...everyone should be aware about it.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      jasper420-- not to worry. When it comes to quitting, use whatever works. The e-cig works for some people I hear and I'm hoping it works for you. Keep us posted as to your success.

      Thanks Diogenes for the kind words. Cold Turkey is the best, I agree, but also the hardest. I tried it many times and was never able to do it. Smoking is soooo tough to quit that people need all the help they can get and almost everybody ( smokers and non) underestimates the power of nicotine addiction. It really is too early to know whether e-cigs will be helpful for quitters, or just another way of smoking.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Robie.

      Smoking is about the only bad thing I never did! And I truly loathe it.

      There's no free lunch, is there? I wonder if these things are sancioned by the Tobacco Barons? This may be in your article, I'll read it again as have just skimmed through.

      In my limited experience with smoking (apart from having parents who both died from it)is that the only successful way is to quit cold turkey. Fiddling around with these things will lead back to fags again in most cases I would bet.

      A well prepared and useful article from you.


    • profile image

      jasper420 6 years ago

      I just purchased e ciggs to help me quite smoking Im smoke at least a pack a day and want to stop due to my health and spritual belifes I wish I read this before buying the e ciggs great hub

    • albertsj profile image

      jacy albertson 6 years ago from Lake Mary, Fl

      Wow, you've really done a lot of research on this. Very useful, and informative info. I had never even heard of them (I've never been a smoker though) Great hub! Voting up & useful,

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I had no idea e-cigs were not regulated by somebody. Yet, they deliver nicotine. Very interesting. Thanks for an eye-opening look into not just quitting smoking but into the business of capitalizing on people who want to do something good for themselves. As always, Robie, super Hub.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I agree Sunshine -- at one point I smoked close to three packs a day and I cannot imagine a machne with batteries that gives off vapors being anywhere near as attractive-- when I was finally ready to quit it was because I really was sick of having to light up and being enslaved to smoking so I don't think e-cigs would have helped me much, but it seems there are people that have quit using them. It takes all kinds I guess:-)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I've had friends attempt to quit with the e-cig, but it didn't work. I'll never forget the scene in the movie The Tourist with Johnny Depp smoking one. Dislike that scene. Not attractive as the real deal. My opinion:)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hello Marcy and Sunshine and thank you for sharing. I quit smoking before e-cigs existed so I too have been curious about them and how they work. It is very interesting to hear what you and others have to say. I'll be very interested to see if there are any people who leave comments who have had a positive experience with vaping or who have been ablle to quit using e-cigs.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      A very informative hub! Thank you for adding the link about the e-cigarette explosion. I can't imagine being that poor man with missing teeth and part of his tongue due to a faulty battery. I tried an e-cig once. I had a headache for hours afterwards. I'm not a fan of them. UP/Useful!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Robie - I have wondered about these devices - I'm so glad you wrote this hub! When I was in Mexico recently, a good friend was planning to try this method. (which I'd never heard of). I kept telling her it didn't sound safe. Aside from the nicotine, it still stimulates the smiker's need to be inhaling, which makes it difficult to quit, too. I will be sharing this! Voted up and useful.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hello Christoph-- good to see you. It's been a long time:-) Good luck with the quitting. It isn't easy but it sure is worth it.

      Eliza-- Thanks for sharing your personal experience with vaping here. There is enormous variability in the nicotine delivered by different brands of e-cig and the whole thing is totally unregulated. I think the whole situation bears watching.

    • ElizaDoole profile image

      Lisa McKnight 6 years ago from London

      Thanks for writing this robie2. A few of my friends have started vaping. Mainly when they go to the pub, and it has made a difference to how they smell, and how much they cough. However, recently, the guy who championed it all has gone back to straight smoking, because he said he felt like he was getting MORE addicted. Now I don't know what the truth of that is, but I would like to see more studies done. I mean, you are not allowed to smoke and take patches, so why is the ecig not regarded in the same way as NRT? Makes you wonder. Thanks for writing this. Voted up!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

      A timely article for me (and to discover your other hubs about quitting smoking) since I will be quitting in just a couple of days. I'll be sure to turn to your writings for help.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Absolutely Tom-- the power of addiction should never be underestimated LOL A former heroin addict told me once that he found cigarettes harder to kick than heroin. I believe him. But it is also a testament to human ingenuity that there is always a way to make a buck out of addiction.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Very interesting article. It's a testament to the power of cigarette addiction that a substitute this elaborate is actually an option for some people.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks Steph. I've been interested in them for some time. I think a lot more needs to be known about the long term effects and some regulation of the industry is in order.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Great information on e-cigarettes! I have never smokedbut have wondered about the safety of these. That one that exploded in a man's mouth, yikes!!


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