E-Cigarettes: They glow as you puff and release vaporized mist or fog like smoke that gives immense calming feeling to you. They give the same feel to the smoker, but the cause for concern is – are they really safe? Let us understand the exact concept of e-cigarettes, health risks associated with their usage, clinical research and safety evaluation.

 Until now you have heard of cigarettes and their deleterious effects on health including lungs cancer, blood pressure and heart diseases, but a new era of smoking has begun with the introduction of ultra-modern e-cigarettes in the market. There is a gradual increase in the number of its takers: the youngsters, the adults, the elderly and even the teenagers – who are now becoming more and more habituated to e-cigarettes considering them to be safe as a result of much hyped advertising campaigns (claiming their safety) that are luring them. Before going into the details of their safety concerns, let us first understand what exactly e-cigarettes are and how can they too make an individual addictive.

About e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are a type of electronic nicotine delivery system. They were invented in China in 2003 and entered the American and European markets in 2006.Electronic cigarettes look quite similar to typical cigarettes in their design, but they are battery operated. They contain a battery, a heating element and a cartridge loaded with nicotine containing liquid (propylene glycol or glycerine) and flavoring agents. The liquid plus nicotine present in the cartridge is heated by an atomizer. The heated-up liquid that turns into vapor is inhaled and then exhaled as a vapor cloud that resembles cigarette smoke. Some of the e-cigarettes come with a rechargeable battery and refillable cartridge and some are disposable as well.

Health risks associated with e-cigarettes

Don’t ever assume that e-cigarettes are safer than the regular cigarettes as they don’t burn and smoke because, in the long run, they are not considered as very safe. Furthermore, the nicotine is addictive and it causes the same withdrawal symptoms (irritability, restlessness, anxiousness and depression) like typical cigarettes after stopping the vaping [Draw on “smoke” from an electronic cigarette (which uses a vaporizer to simulate smoke)]. E-cigarettes contain nicotine that hinders brain development and flavoring agents that are appealing to kids – as a result many kids are becoming more and more addicted to e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes can also cause damage to arteries over a period of time. The toxicity of chronic exposure to the chemical components of e-cigarettes is uncertain as FDA does not regulate their manufacturing or sales.

Considering the potential health risks, if you are planning to quit smoking by adopting e-cigarettes as a better alternative, then you must have to become more careful until the time you know more about other potential health risks. The safe bet would be to say no to electronic cigarettes.

Safety evaluation and risk assessment of e-cigarettes

Health experts, supporters and opponents – all are debating the potential health risks associated with e-cigarettes. There is a lot of controversy regarding the safety concerns, health problems and negligible benefits of e-cigarettes. Many proponents believe that e-cigarettes are a better alternative for the smokers to quit smoking because smokers who find it difficult to quit smoking can be better off with the less harmful e-cigarettes. Similarly, drug abusers can switch to e-cigarettes. In addition, the proponents believe that, e-cigarette can help people quit smoking, but such claims need long-term and in-depth studies as we do not know how safe they are? The research studies are currently in nascent stages.

When you burn a normal cigarette, it releases deadly cocktail of over thousands of chemicals including nicotine, nitrosamines, carbon monoxide, aromatic hydrocarbons, tar (a mixture of deleterious chemicals that cause cancer), arsenic, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, acrolein, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxides, and ammonia – all these are carcinogenic. But some of the most dangerous chemicals in tobacco smoke are present as gases, and do not count as part of tar. Cigarettes with less tar (e-cigarettes) still contain toxic chemicals and smokers tend to smoke them differently to get the same nicotine hit – so the risk of lung cancer from smoking low tar cigarettes (e-cigarettes) is not any lower. According to several research studies, though the harmful chemicals and toxins that are found in e-cigarette vapor are far lower than cigarettes, they are still carcinogenic.

The levels of toxic and carcinogenic compounds may vary. At high temperatures, propylene glycol forms propylene oxide – a potent human carcinogen. Similarly, glycerol produces the toxin acrolein. Both glycol and glycerol form formaldehyde and acetaldehyde – the carcinogenic compounds.

If e-cigarettes are creating new challenges, then what is the best alternative?

Clinicians should first motivate a smoker to quit smoking by insisting US-FDA approved smoking cessation aids as a first choice. If a smoker is unwilling to use such evidence-based methods, then doctors can recommend e-cigarettes to the smoker, but should inform the smoker about the uncertainties associated with the devices’ safety and efficacy.

After knowing that the constituents of e-cigarettes are not yet standardized apart from the nicotine containing liquid, it is better to opt ‘Smoking Cessation Therapy’ that includes usage of medicines, nasal sprays, lozenges, micro-tabs, gums, patches, and inhalators under medical supervision. All these treatment options are available at a multi-specialty hospital. You can avail such treatment with regular follow-ups to ensure your chances of success.