Are electronic cigarettes the solution to the problems associated with smoking or just another way we try to have our cake and eat it too?
It took awhile, but today few doubt the dangerous effect that smoking regular cigarettes has on our health. Their addictive nature is undeniable. That’s why manufacturers have long tried to deliver nicotine, the most addictive substance in cigarettes, in some other less-dangerous form like gums, patches, and now electronic cigarettes (e-cigs).
E-cigs seem to be the answer: they deliver a good hit of nicotine and give people something to do with our hands, without all the added tar and formaldehyde. New research has even substantiated claims by companies that e-cigs are safer and may help people quit smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. Problem solved?
Not so fast.
First, while the claim that e-cigs can help you quit smoking may be stronger, it still isn’t proven. The best they can say is that it “may” help. We need a lot more research to back this up before healthcare professionals are willing to give e-cigs two thumbs up on that front.
Second, e-cigs don’t deliver nicotine alone. Depending on the product, they contain any number of other chemicals. Researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins said last month (February 2018) that a number of e-cig devices they tested leaked potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese, and nickel into the inhaled vapor. These toxic metals, when inhaled at high levels have been linked to brain damage, cancer, liver and lung damage, as well as cardiovascular disease.
Another study, released at about the same time, by researchers at New York University found that vaping (smoking e-cigs) can cause irreparable damage to DNA.This study was done on lab mice and will need to be replicated in humans before solid conclusions are drawn, but it is still worth noting.
Third, the use of e-cigs has gone up among teenagers and there is evidence that e-cigs may serve as a gateway to regular cigarettes. In a report, published in early 2018 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, public health experts reviewed findings from all the existing research on e-cigs to date. Among their conclusions: teenagers and young adults who vaped were more likely to try regular cigarettes.
Those same experts also found conclusively that e-cigs are safer than regular cigarettes, and that “switching can reduce smokers’ exposure to deadly tar, dangerous chemicals and other carcinogens.” Safer, they said, but not necessarily safe. It will likely take decades more research to figure that out.
Fourth, no one said nicotine was actually OK. In some ways, the issue of nicotine has been overshadowed by all the other toxic and carcinogenic compounds found in cigarettes. Because the press on these has been so bad, it has been easy to let nicotine off the hook. But, let’s be clear, chronic inhalation of nicotine is not good for you. According to this 2015 study, “Nicotine poses several health hazards,” including lowered immunity and increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders.
Based on the evidence so far, many are urging caution and regulation of these products. E-cigs are now under the purview of The Food and Drug Administration and they are planning on implementing tighter controls. The World Health Organization has called for limits on advertising, and medical associations worldwide urge caution when it comes to these devices. And just last month, the Texas Motor Speedway announced a ban on e-cigs in their grandstands, starting this spring.
If you are a smoker considering the switch to e-cigs to help you quit, talk to your doctor first. Before you replace one habit for another, make sure you know the facts and what is right for you. Call and make an appointment today.