Are E-Cigarettes Safer than Regular Cigarettes?

The consensus has been in on cigarette smoking for years – it is bad for your health on a number of levels – but the safety of e-cigarettes is still being debated.

While there are many who say e-cigarettes are safer because there is no actual smoke or tar to inhale, there are others who note e-cigarettes still contain a variety of ingredients, including nicotine, that are bad for your health.

Comparing the safety of e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes starts with an understanding of what e-cigarettes are. An e-cigarette delivers the same tobacco ingredients found in a traditional cigarette without the smoker having to light up the tobacco and inhale the smoke. Instead, the nicotine in the tobacco is introduced into the system by heating a cartridge containing liquid nicotine and creating vapor. E-cigarettes are smokeless because users inhale vapor rather than the smoke from burning tobacco. While the debate still rages, some compelling evidence indicates new findings about e-cigarettes and their safety.

The Good News About Using E-Cigarettes

Overall, e-cigarettes are considered by most medical authorities to be less dangerous to your health than regular cigarettes. The most dangerous aspect of smoking traditional cigarettes is the addictive nature of the habit and the inhaling of the tar and other chemicals found in tobacco smoke, including free radicals that damage the body.

Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide and tar. The tar is by far the most carcinogenic by-product of smoking. A carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer. E-cigarettes do not create smoke, so the user does not inhale any carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide or tar. Instead, the nicotine is in a purer, liquid form that with flavoring agents, are suspended in glycerol and propylene glycol. The liquid is heated or vaporized, converting it to a fine mist that is inhaled. This is often referred to as “vaping.”

The Bad News About Using E-Cigarettes

Although there are some ways in which e-cigarettes are an improvement over regular cigarettes, there are other ways in which they are still damaging to your health. The liquid nicotine has a variety of negative side effects, including  the development of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. The desired effects of nicotine, which are both relaxation and stimulation, also lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate.

Nicotine is highly addictive whether it is inhaled as smoke or vapor and regular use can contribute to the risk of addiction to other controlled substances. This is a particular risk in teens and young adults. Nicotine may also dampen brain development in adolescents and teens. The result can be behavioral problems such as poor impulse control and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Two other ingredients in e-cigarette cartridges are glycerol and propylene glycol. While these are not hazardous in their inert forms, they decompose when vaporized, transforming them into more dangerous compounds, including formaldehyde. Some recent studies have also shown certain flavoring compounds used in the vapor cartridges can create an inflammatory response in white blood cells, leading to cellular toxicity, inflammation and a compromised immune system. The flavorings most appealing to teens include vanilla, cinnamon and buttery flavors. These also have the most detrimental effect on white blood cells and the immune system.

Second-Hand Dangers of E-Cigarettes

Second-hand smoke from traditional cigarettes is not an issue with vaporizers (a common term for e-cigarettes), but there are other hazards to consider. The liquid contained in e-cigarette cartridges is extremely concentrated, making it dangerous to absorb through the skin or ingest. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of poison control calls regarding potential e-cigarette poisoning of children increased by more than three hundred percent. Since then, the increase has been astronomical, increasing every year.

Can E-Cigarettes Help You Kick the Habit?

There have been numerous studies done on whether e-cigarettes help current smokers quit, and the results are not conclusive. In some clinical trials, using them helped smokers reduce their need for nicotine and eventually quit. Other trials, however, showed no link between switching to e-cigarettes and quitting smoking. The predominant view is that there is actually a lower quit rate for those who switch from regular cigarettes to e-cigs.

In many cases they are switching from one form of nicotine delivery to another, but they do not give up the secondary delivery system – the e-cigarettes. Nicotine replacement therapy using gum or patches seems to be a more effective method of quitting and does not lead to an addiction to or dependence on the gum or patches.

It is important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several smoking cessation aids. Lozenges, gums and patches containing nicotine are approved. The use of some antidepressants is also approved. E-cigarettes are not FDA approved for smoking cessation programs.

Do E-Cigarettes Lead to Traditional Cigarettes?

While many people use e-cigarettes to back off from smoking regular cigarettes, there are some people who start with e-cigarettes, then graduate to traditional tobacco use. This is more common in teens and young adults, causing concern among physicians and pediatricians. They fear that, while smoking among adolescents has declined sharply in the last decade, it could rise in the future because more of them are vaping. E-cigarettes are currently the most popular form of tobacco-based product for teenagers in the United States, but many of these teens acknowledge they later graduate to traditional cigarettes.

Marketing of e-cigarettes is problematic in the case of teen users, who seem to be targeted by the allure of flavors like cherry, mango, vanilla and menthol. Studies have shown most teen users first try vaping by choosing candy-like flavors. In older users, sweet flavors are not as popular, particularly if the users were already smokers. Recent studies have indicated more teen smokers are created by e-cigarettes than adult smokers who quit traditional smoking.

Are E-Cigarettes Less Harmful than Regular Cigarettes?

The final verdict on e-cigarettes versus regular cigarettes is still out. The consensus is that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional tobacco smoking in some ways, but just as harmful in others. While you no longer inhale the toxic tars and other carcinogens, you are still ingesting nicotine, which is harmful to your health in a variety of ways. Volatile organic compounds, lead and other toxins are still absorbed by the body when using e-cigarettes. While e-cigarettes are safer, they are not healthier.

Related Article: Tobacco Use Screenings and Cessation Programs

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