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?
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.