E-Cigarettes: Friend or Foe?

Sales of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are exploding rapidly, and so is controversy over them. Are they a breakthrough aid to help stop smoking or addictive, harmful devices?

E-cigarettes are battery-operated gadgets that heat liquid nicotine, flavors and other chemicals into a vapor that users inhale. The amount of nicotine they deliver varies widely and their manufacturers exercise little apparent quality control.

The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes to quit smoking and there are no well-controlled studies of their efficacy–despite advertising claims. The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are unknown. Lab analyses suggest they contain cancer-causing compounds (carcinogens) and other toxic chemicals.

Potential Tobacco Gateway

Sometimes e-cigarettes contain flavors (like chocolate and cherry) that especially appeal to children and teens. Middle and high school students doubled their use of e-cigarettes between 2011 to 2012 (from 4.7 percent to 10 percent), according to a recent study published by the US Centers for Disease Control. Considering this, it is fair to suggest that electronic cigarettes can serve as a gateway for kids and teens to get addicted to nicotine and “graduate” to regular cigarettes–introducing a new generation of smokers to tobacco-related disease and premature death.

Over the last 10 years, smoking among New York high school students has dropped nearly 60 percent. The introduction of e-cigarettes threatens this substantial progress. New York State prohibits selling e-cigarettes to anyone under 18, as do some other states.

Concern about the lack of scientific data has caused a growing number of state and local governments to prohibit e-cigarettes in some public places to minimize possible risks and prevent confusion in enforcing smoke-free laws. Several US Attorneys General and many medical organizations have requested FDA testing and regulation.

Find evidence-based treatment for tobacco dependence at the North Shore-LIJ Center for Tobacco Control. For help to quit or to refer someone for assistance, call 516-466-1980. For phone counseling, call the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at 866-697-8487.

One Response to “E-Cigarettes: Friend or Foe?”

  1. Smita Pakhale

    Thank you Pat for this very timely commentary! E-cigarettes, as you have stated, are a very real threat to all smoking cessation and smoking ban success achieved thus far. All parents and concerned citizens need to be seriously concerned about e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking ‘real cigarettes’ and ‘normalizing’ smoking behaviour.

    Reply

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