You have probably walked or driven by someone blowing plumes of thick white smoke into the air from an electronic cigarette. Most people are familiar with e cigarettes these days. They have been around since the early 2000’s with increasing popularity as an aide to smoking cessation or recreational use.
But what exactly is in those cigarettes? Are they a safer alternative to smoking tobacco?
There are a variety of brands in the market, but for the most part, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, heavy metals, ultra-fine particulates, propylene glycol or glycerin and flavorings. The extent to how these products can harm a user is not clear. Even though the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say the above products are generally recognized as safe, they really mean safe for ingestion, and not inhalation. So for someone who does not smoke any tobacco products to begin with, it may be a risk to inhale these products. The other concern is that e cigarette use can eventually lead to tobacco use and in fact candy, fruit, and menthol flavored e cigarettes are especially attractive to teens. Other high risk groups would include pregnant women who risk fetal brain and lung development from inhaling nicotine.
Most users of e-cigarettes tend to be those who are current smokers, or are trying to quit. E cigarettes are not FDA approved as a smoking cessation agent. FDA recommended agents for smoking cessation include Nicotine Replacement Therapies (patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler, nasal spray), Varenicline (Chantix), and Buproprion (Wellbutrin). We know much more about the risks of tobacco use and for that reason, an e cigarette may be a reasonable approach for someone who wishes to stop smoking, provided that there is a complete switch from tobacco to e cigarette. If you are a smoker who is thinking about quitting, a conversation with your doctor can help you determine what strategy may work best for you.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Office on Smoking and Health. E-Cigarette Information. Accessed on 3/27/17
Grana R et al. E-Cigarettes; A scientific review. Circulation.2014;129:1972-1986
Pepper JK, et al. Adolescents’ interest in trying flavoured e-cigarettes. BMJ.Tob Control 2016;0:1–5. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053174.