EHE Perspectives Blog

Are E-cigarettes Beneficial or Harmful?

Posted by EHE Blogger

10/26/16 9:56 AM

blog_news_201601026.jpgWhile e–cigarettes do not contain most of the thousands of chemicals—many of them cancer-causing—found in traditional cigarettes, they do contain nicotine, the substance responsible for causing addiction to tobacco products, as well as other chemicals including flavorings.

Those championing their benefits tend to focus on the effects e–cigarettes have on current smokers as compared to the effects of smoking traditional tobacco products. Public Health England seems to be leading the way for proponents of e–cigarettes and has stated that: “An expert review of the latest evidence concludes that e–cigarettes are around 95% safer than smoked tobacco and they can help smokers to quit.” Public Health England commissioned an independent review of the latest evidence and published its findings in, “E–cigarettes: an evidence update.” This report appears to provide a fairly comprehensive summary of the arguments most proponents put forth advocating the benefits of e–cigarettes. Some of its major findings include:
  • That while e–cigarettes may not be completely safe, they contain far fewer harmful chemicals that cause smoking–related diseases in individuals who smoke traditional cigarettes, and the chemicals that are present pose only limited danger.
  • That e–cigarettes can be used to help individuals who smoke traditional cigarettes quit smoking and reduce their cigarette consumption and may even encourage individuals with no interest in quitting or reducing their cigarette consumption to do so.
  • That the accuracy of nicotine content labeling currently raises no major concerns. Packaging that was found to be poorly labeled—for the most part—contained less nicotine than stated on the packaging.
  • That despite recent studies that indicate the contrary, there is no indication that individuals who use e–cigarettes are exposed to dangerous levels of aldehydes.
  • That there is no evidence that e–cigarettes are undermining the long–term decline in cigarette smoking among adults and youth, and may in fact be contributing to it. Additionally despite e–cigarette experimentation by individuals who have never smoked, e–cigarettes rarely turn individuals who have never smoked into regular e–cigarette users.
Proponents on the other side of the debate have concerns about the long–term health effects of e–cigarette use as well as concerns that individuals who do not smoke—particularly children and adolescents—may take up e–cigarette use. They also believe that reports that e–cigarettes can help smokers quit are unsubstantiated. For example:
  • According to a comprehensive report by the WHO, “e–cigarettes have been marketed in almost 8,000 different flavours, and there is concern they will serve as a gateway to nicotine addiction and, ultimately, smoking, particularly for young people. Experimentation with e–cigarettes is increasing rapidly among adolescents, with e–cigarette use in this group doubling from 2008 to 2012.” The same report found that there is currently insufficient evidence to determine whether e–cigarettes can help smokers quit. And therefore, “smokers should first be encouraged to quit smoking and nicotine addiction by using a combination of already–approved treatments.”
  • According to the FDA, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that e–cigarettes promote successful long–term quitting. Additionally, there is not enough known about the amount of nicotine and other potentially–harmful ingredients being inhaled, nor the potential long–term risks associated with e–cigarette use.
  • According to the Surgeon General, while some individuals may be using e–cigarettes as a method to help them stop smoking (albeit an unproven method), the recreational use of e–cigarettes is becoming a concern, particularly among high school students whose e–cigarette use may establish a nicotine addiction.
  • Study results that appeared in “Association of Electronic Cigarette Use With Initiation of Combustible Tobacco Product Smoking in Early Adolescence,” reported that students who had used e–cigarettes by the time they stared 9th grade were more likely than others to start smoking traditional cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products within the next year.
  • According to a recent study, published in the April 15, 2015 online Tobacco Control: “The concentrations of some flavour chemicals in e–cigarette fluids are sufficiently high for inhalation exposure by vaping to be of toxicological concern. Regulatory limits should be contemplated for levels of some of the more worrisome chemicals as well as for total flavour chemical levels. Ingredient labeling should also be required.”
  • According to the American Heart Association: “Based on the current evidence, the association’s position is that e–cigarettes that contain nicotine are tobacco products and should be subject to all laws that apply to these products. The association also calls for strong new regulations to prevent access, sales and marketing of e–cigarettes to youth, and for more research into the product’s health impact.”
  • According to the updated recommendations on smoking cessation published today by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, there is not enough evidence to recommend the use of e–cigarettes as an aid in smoking cessation.
For now, there are far more questions than answers. Many potential health effects of e–cigarettes may only show up over the long-term rather than the short–term, and since e–cigarettes only entered the marketplace a decade ago they have not been around long enough or used widely enough to determine what those long–term effects might be. Further research must be done to fully understand the consequences of smoking e–cigarettes and whether or not they can be used successfully by individuals wanting to quit traditional cigarettes. However, due to the lack of definitive information about e–cigarettes, their use is not recommended.

Topics: preventive healthcare, health, ecigarettes, beneficial or harmful

Posts by Topic

see all

Subscribe to Email Updates