Overheard On Campus: Are e-cigarettes safe?

Contributed by Beau Dooley, M.S., M.P.H., & Lisa Salazar, M.P.H, A.C.E.-C.P.T.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to smoke when I was in college, which was not that long ago (really!). Luckily, I was able to quit cold turkey without the help of nicotine patches or gum or other methods. When I heard about e-cigarettes I was kind of confused. While there seems to be an inherent air of safety because e-cigarettes don’t involve inhaling a big puff of smoke that can damage your lungs, there have to be some drawbacks, right?

Girl using e-cigarette

One of our experts, Beau Dooley, Associate Director of Student Wellness and Outreach at James Madison University, has mixed feelings …

E-cigarettes are currently a hot topic of conversation. The short answer to your question is that the safety of e-cigarettes is being fiercely debated by public health experts, the tobacco industry, e-cigarette manufacturers, and the FDA.

E-cigarettes work by using a battery-operated heating element to vaporize nicotine (located in replaceable cartridges), which the user then inhales. There is neither tobacco nor smoke involved. E-cigarettes typically look like cigarettes, pens, or USB flash drives.

Supporters of e-cigarettes say that by isolating nicotine and not using tobacco, e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes, which contain thousands of harmful chemicals. Additionally, supporters are comparing e-cigarettes to other proven nicotine replacement products that help smokers quit. Opponents of e-cigarettes say that a lack of FDA guidelines concerning their production could lead to inconsistency in safety among different brands. For instance, depending on the brand being used, consumers may get differing amounts of nicotine (which is highly addictive) and other chemicals that may be as harmful as those found in cigarette smoke.

So are e-cigarettes safe? I suppose it all depends on what you hope to get out of using the product. If you’re a smoker, they might be a safer alternative to cigarettes. If you’re a smoker and want to quit, know that there is no scientific evidence showing that e-cigarettes are an effective quit product (as compared to medication, nicotine patches, etc.). If you do not currently smoke and simply want to start by using a safer product, I would reconsider until the verdict is out among experts as to how safe e-cigarettes really are.

Lisa Salazar, Director of the Wellness Center at Idaho State University, still isn’t convinced …

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are one hot topic in the health and safety world. Not unlike traditional cigarette companies, companies producing and selling the e-cigarettes are making wide claims of their product being a safer alternative to cigarettes. In addition, there are claims and hundreds of testimonials that e-cigarettes are instrumental in helping traditional smokers quit. The manufacturer of one popular brand has even fortified its product with extra vitamins to make it “more healthy.”

While they may be safer than a traditional cigarette, they still deliver nicotine, which remains a very addictive substance. In addition, testing by the FDA has shown that e-cigarettes still contain cancer-causing substances and toxins including diethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze.  There are simply too many unknowns in the contents and long-term effects of e-cigarettes to be certain as to whether or not e-cigarettes are safer than their traditional cigarette counterparts. It could simply wind up being a matter of the lesser of two evils. Thus, despite having some very appealing flavors (including coffee, cherry, mint, and chocolate) to choose from, the bottom line is that e-cigarettes simply are not very safe.

It sounds like there isn’t enough information yet to really say whether or not e-cigarettes are safe. Maybe safe isn’t a word we should be using to describe any type of addictive substance, even if the risks are lowered. Have you tried e-cigarettes? If so, what do you think about them? Write a comment in the section below. Click here for more Overheard On Campus posts.

7 thoughts on “Overheard On Campus: Are e-cigarettes safe?

  1. I used the smoking everywhere e cigarette to break my ten year smoking addiction.

    I used the nicotine patch; and purchased blank cartridges which I filled with 100% organic vegetable glycerin (found at whole foods) and a organic menthol flavor.

    By using the two together, I was able to break the chemical and mental addiction.

    When using vegetable glycerin, there are no additives or harsh chemicals…. Much safer than breathing rush hour traffic air in Houston Texas. When studied in a local university lab; the organic vegetable glycerin produced zero toxic emissions when vaporized / burned.

    For the skeptics, read the warning on nicotine gum… Increases the risk of mouth cancer over 200x that of cigarette smoke.

    It’s a personal choice and should remain that. The state of NY and FDA are upset that they can’t control and therefore implement tax on e cigarettes.

    I do believe they should have clearer labels if buying nicotine cartridges and a only for age 18

  2. I have finally found an e-cigarette that I like, tastewise. And it is definitely helping me to quit smoking regular cigarettes. It is a very exciting breakthrough for me on quitting. Probably going to save my life — or at least extend it.

  3. JR

    I am pretty confused. I’ve been using e cigarette for 3 weeks now and I enjoy it. I have not touched a real cigarette since, and I don’t even feel like it either. But now I am researching to find out what is in the liquid of the e cigarette and I am reading a lot of comments on how bad e cigarettes are, but they can’t really say for sure. I wish somebody would confirm if the e cigarette is good or bad and stop saying that it is not a proven fact.
    Is this a matter of money or health????????

    • I posted a comment while thinking I was posting a reply to you. I tried to reply to you as well but the moderator does not allow duplicate comments. Please see the forum postings for your reply!!

  4. I have been smoking since I was 16 and am 34 now. I am a health fanatic that is very aware of my physical condition and my only remaing detrimental vice was cigarettes. I used a vaporizer to smoke weed back when I still smoked it, for obvious reasons, and so I decided to use the vapor cigarettes when they came out. I have used the “V2 Cigs” e-cigarettes for three days now and the result of unloading my body of ash, tar, cabonmonixide, ect. has been ubelievable. Do not let ANYONE!!! make you believe the debate is about health! This is positive evolution of society. The fuel for debate is rooted in the soical expectations of non-smokers, MONEY, and the death of a social suicide machine. Attacking a technological development that helps millions of people prolong their life and that protects millions of others from the side effects of the device’s predecessor is as insane as the church burning witches because they didn’t need god to heal themselfs. This is the twenty-first century people!!! Have a doubt? Google it. You will find the answer there,it’s beneath layers of s*^t, but it’s there. Do not let the tax collecters and big tobacco take this away by using the FDA. The lives of many productive future citizens rely on all of us standing up to this kind of insanity.

  5. Give your lungs a break and stick to nicotine gum and lozenges. Both provide a relaxing activity to replace smoking, while keeping the extra food out of your mouth. One way we have found to make the gum last longer is to cut it into smaller pieces, and mixing it with our favorite sugarless gum to lower the dose and allow more chewing satisfaction. Even the 2mg doses can be a bit harsh for those who typically smoke less than a pack a day.

  6. i love e-cigs! i got mine over 2 weeks ago and not only have i not smoked since then i am still using the original cartridge… not sure how that converts as far as nicotine levels go, but im pretty sure thats less than the pack a day i was smoking! and then theres the roughly $75.00 i have saved from not buying yucky smelly cigarettes!

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