E-Cigarettes: What You Need to Know
The popularity and number of people using electronic nicotine delivery systems, or e-cigarettes, has surged in the last year. There is an emerging debate in the research community on whether e-cigarettes are just another way for Big Tobacco companies to market nicotine products, or a healthier alternative to cigarettes that could reduce health care problems and costs.
Are e-cigarettes safe and do they pose specific health concerns? We really do not know for sure at this time, but we do know what is unknown. Take into consideration several topics of concern from preclinical data in animal models:
- solvents potentially transforming into carcinogens like carbinols
- inflammation from the nanoparticles in the vapor
- immunocompromise and increased risk for pulmonary infections
- impact on stem cells, with a theoretically greater risk for a cancer
- hazards of the battery vapor and the liquid leakage from the battery itself
One important issue is whether e-cigarettes pose a health threat to youth. Jasjit S. Ahluwalia, MD, executive director, Center for Health Equity, and associate director, Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis recently commented on e-cigarette experimentation and use by young people.
“Does it become an addiction to e-cigarettes or does it become a gateway drug, so to speak, to actual tobacco use, and we don’t know the answer to that.”
The truth is that we really do not know enough about e-cigarettes. They may help some people quit smoking regular cigarettes when used as a harm reduction technique, and thus may have the potential to help millions of people with little relative risk, but we do not have research results that support this assumption. Regulations make sense to restrict use by minors along with limits on marketing, and quality control is appropriate because of the nicotine. Individuals should think twice before starting to use such unproven products with lifelong addiction risks, especially due to the lack of evidence-based study.