A Closer Look: E-Cigarettes

The popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has skyrocketed nationally with over 250 brands on the market. It has been argued that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking regular cigarettes, but is that true? What are the dangers of smoking e-cigarettes and how can you protect yourself from exposure?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes e-cigarettes as smokeless, battery operated devices designed to deliver flavor and nicotine or other chemicals to the lungs without burning tobacco.

Kristina Murphy, Fairbanks tobacco cessation educator, said e-cigarettes are a controversial topic because they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; therefore their side effects are ambiguous at this point.

“Some people allege that it can be a better alternative to smoking cigarettes because they have less cancer causing components,” Murphy said. “Although they have less identified cancer causing carcinogens, we don’t know how the carcinogens they contain will affect the lungs.”

These products are also dangerous because they contain high levels of liquid nicotine, which is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes.

“A regular cigarette contains between one and three milligrams of nicotine, whereas someone can purchase liquid nicotine for an e-cigarette that can fill up to 18 milligrams,” Murphy said.

Storing liquid nicotine can be dangerous for adults and children. If it is ingested or skin absorbed, liquid nicotine can cause vomiting and seizures.

“This can easily put a person at risk of overdosing because it can be accidently swallowed or absorbed through the skin,” Murphy said. “For a child, swallowing 30 milligrams of liquid nicotine can be fatal.”

Companies that sell e-cigarettes market significantly to youth and young adults, concealing how it can be harmful by selling contraptions that will be attractive to teens such as game controllers and pop cans.

“These companies are marketing to teens through colorful and flashy advertisement and a variety of flavors to make the product seem cool,” Murphy said. “If exposed at an early age, nicotine can affect development because it affects every center of the brain.”

Murphy said she doesn’t believe e-cigarettes are a good option for people wanting to quit smoking and they should seek other alternatives instead such as nicotine patches.

Would you like to quit smoking? Fairbanks offers a tobacco cessation program for our patients including individual assessments, coping skills development and relapse prevention. For additional information about tobacco cessation, please call 317.579.7090.

Research:
http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm172906.htm
http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes
http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/23/suppl_2/ii41.abstract