Electronic Cigarettes: The Not So Safe Alternative to Smoking
Sure, electronic cigarettes are appealing. They are odorless, there is no butt to toss and they won’t stain your teeth. But they are still addictive, and one puff of an electronic cigarette can cause you to inhale more than twice the mount of nicotine of a conventional cigarette.
What are E-Cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) are battery-operated devices designed to simulate the look and feel of conventional cigarettes. The devices contain cartridges filled with nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. The electronic cigarette turns nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user, resulting in the same addictive properties as those found in conventional cigarettes.
Nicotine Levels in Electronic Cigarettes
The level of nicotine found in an electronic cigarette varies depending on the type of device purchased, but can be as high as 24 milligrams. A conventional cigarette typically contains about 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine. Of course, for either type of cigarette, how much nicotine a person actually inhales depends on a number of factors, including how they smoke, how many puffs they take and how deeply they inhale. E-cigarettes purport to have a higher nicotine level because they are not supposed to be smoked completely in one sitting.
Food and Drug Administration’s Study
A recent study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that electronic cigarettes do contain trace amounts of toxic substances and other carcinogens, despite claims by electronic cigarette manufacturers that their products are safer than everyday cigarettes.
The FDA analyzed the ingredients of two leading brands of electronic cigarettes and found nitrosamines tobacco-specific compounds, and diethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze that is toxic to humans.
“We’re concerned about electronic cigarettes because of what we know is in them and what we don’t know about how they affect the human body,” said Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal commissioner, in a July 2009 article on electronic cigarettes in The New York Times.
No FDA Approval
Because e-cigarettes aren’t required to be submitted to the FDA for evaluation or approval, the agency’s only knowledge of the amount of nicotine and chemicals in the devices is based on its 2009 study. As stated on its website, the FDA has expressed the following concerns:
- E-cigarettes can increase nicotine addiction among young people and may lead kids to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.
- The products may contain ingredients that are known to be toxic to humans.
- Because clinical studies about the safety and efficacy of these products for their intended use have not been submitted to FDA, consumers currently have no way of knowing – 1) whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, or 2) what types or concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals, or what amount of nicotine, they are inhaling when they use these products.
Appealing to Youth
Most youth have been properly warned about the health risks of cigarette use, and many have been discouraged from taking up the habit. However, they may see e-cigarettes as a fun new technology that couldn’t possibly have the same effects as the cigarettes their parents warned them about.
The FDA raised concerns that electronic cigarettes may actually increase nicotine addiction and tobacco use in young people. That is because they are being marketed to a younger demographic, who may not be aware of the risks of the e-cigarette since they contain no health warnings such as those found on a package of conventional cigarettes or nicotine replacement products.
Purchasing Electronic Cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes are sold with no legal age restrictions, and are accessible to teens through the Internet and at shopping malls. They are available in flavors such as strawberry, bubblegum and chocolate, which may be appealing to younger consumers.
The FDA’s Concern and Band
“The FDA is concerned about the safety of these products, and how they are marketed to the public,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., the FDA’s commissioner of food and drugs. At least in part because of these concerns, the FDA has banned the importation of e-cigarettes into the country. The FDA labeled the electronic cigarettes as drug delivery devices, which requires manufacturers to get federal approval before marketing them. In several other countries, including Australia, Hong Kong and Brazil, electronic cigarettes are illegal.
The Addictive Nature of e-Cigarettes
Though e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they still contain nicotine. And nicotine is an addictive drug. That means smokers of electronic cigarettes can fall victim to the same psychological and physical dependence to which smokers of conventional cigarettes are privy.
Of the nearly 20 percent of smokers in America, only 4 to 7 percent are able to quit smoking on their own, according to the American Cancer Society. Some of the remainder of the 40 percent of smokers who try and quit each year may seek treatment for their nicotine addiction through support groups, outpatient therapy or residential treatment programs.
Before You Switch
Before you switch to electronic cigarettes thinking they will help you beat your nicotine addiction, do your research. Be sure to also educate your kids on the dangers of nicotine addiction in any form, be it electronic cigarettes or conventional. Not doing so may lead to a life-long addiction, as well as chronic health problems that can’t be kicked.