The Myths and Facts About Electronic Cigarettes

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The health concerns surrounding cigarette smoking, together with the smoking bans in public places, have prompted electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) to become a multibillion dollar industry. Among other claims, they are touted as being a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. 

E-cigs are battery-powered devices with a heating element. They are filled with a liquid nicotine solution, which a heating element then vaporizes. Smokers breathe in nicotine vapor, and the device emits an odorless water vapor. 

But, are they safe, and do they deliver on their promises?  E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, which is the chief cancer-causing agent in traditional cigarettes. Studies also show that the levels of chemicals detected in e-cigarette vapor are much lower than in tobacco smoke. So, at first blush, they seem to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes.  However, there haven't been any long-term studies to corroborate this claim.  As the risks of long-term nicotine use have not yet been quantified, a direct comparison remains impossible. Initial investigations have not been promising. Research has linked nicotine with cancer, birth defects and developmental disorders. So, at this stage, it appears smokers are trading one hazard for another.

Nicotine is a highly-addictive substance.  E-cigarettes deliver nicotine directly to the lungs, so it shouldn't be a surprise that research shows them to be addictive themselves - begging the question of whether they are a viable smoking cessation aid, or a gateway substance. Some manufacturers have responded to addiction concerns by making a synthetic nicotine solution.  In some cases, the composition of the solution has not yet been made public, raising additional concerns about the chemicals involved.  As for associated costs, once the device itself is purchased, cartridges offer significant savings over traditional cigarettes.  A smoker that currently pays $1,000 a year for cigarettes will pay around $600 for e-cigarette cartridges.  

The one major advantage that e-cigarettes DO have, is that there is no second-hand smoke or malodour for bystanders to contend with.  The need for further research is unquestionable, but if you are of the belief that smokers will smoke regardless, the fact that e-cigs don't release harmful chemical-laden second hand smoke into the air may convince you that they are a clear improvement over their traditional counterparts.