Electronic Cigarettes

What are Electronic Cigarettes and are they really safe?

Although there has been a decline in tobacco use among Americans in recent years, another trend involving nicotine use has emerged. This trend is the use of electronic cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are marketed as a safer alternative to other tobacco products. However, questions are being raised in regards to their safety.

 An e-cigarette is a battery powered device that delivers users nicotine via an atomic vaporizer. E-cigarettes are also referred to as e-cigs or vaporizers. Most e-cigarettes resemble a typical cigarette or a pen. E-cigarettes contain 3 primary parts: a mouthpiece with a nicotine cartridge, a battery, and an atomizer. When a user inhales on the mouthpiece a sensor activates a heating element (atomizer) which vaporizes the nicotine in the nicotine cartridge. On some models, a button is depressed to activate the heating element, as opposed to a sensor.  The battery provides the “charge” which stimulates the reaction. 

The claim that e-cigarettes are safe products is not substantiated by research. E-cigarettes have not been fully studied for short and long term health effects. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no comprehensive research that validates the safety of the use of e-cigarettes. Two concerns are the risks of intended use and how much nicotine is inhaled. Previously, e-cigarettes were not regulated by the FDA unless utilized for therapeutic purposes. Therefore, the quantity of nicotine and quality of all components ingested were not controlled for safe consumption. Fortunately, the FDA recently issued new regulations designed to control e-cigarettes and keep them out of the hands of minors. 

 However, it’s not only the unknowns about e-cigarettes that are concerning. It is known that nicotine is consumed when a person uses an e-cigarette. Nicotine is a very powerful psychoactive drug that is the addictive ingredient in tobacco products. Nicotine reaches the brain in seconds and acts a stimulant at low doses and a sedative at high does. Using e-cigarettes can lead to an almost immediate addiction to nicotine, and in some cases a nicotine overdose if large quantities are ingested. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) published a study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (April, 2014) stating “the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2012 to 215 per month in February 2014.” In addition, more than half (51.1%) of the calls involved children under age 5. Another concern is the increase usage of e-cigarette products by the adolescent population who are typically unaware of the potential harmful effects.  According to the CDC, the percentage of middle and high school students using use electronic cigarettes more than doubled from 2013-2014.

As with all personal behaviors, one must weigh the potential health risks vs. benefits when choosing to engage in a behavior. This information was presented to increase awareness of the concerns associated with e-cigarette use, and help individuals make a more informed choice.