Electronic cigarettes — also called e-cigs, vaporizers, or vapor stix — are the latest thing in tobacco products. Although the e-cig companies claim they are harmless, there are major concerns about their safety. Because of misleading advertisements, users believe they can safely continue to smoke by switching from traditional cigarettes to e-cigs.
Unfortunately, scientific research doesn't back this up.
An e-cig is a metal cylinder that acts as a battery-powered atomizer of a solution made up of a highly variable mixture of chemicals and nicotine. The FDA moved to ban the import of e-cigs in 2009, classifying them as drug delivery devices after initial testing found problems with both the amount and type of chemicals in the cartridges. The variations found in the chemical composition of the e-cig cartridges raised concerns about quality standards in the manufacturing process. After the ban, e-cig makers took the FDA to court, claiming the devices were tobacco products and not drug delivery devices subject to FDA regulation. The court ruling allowed the FDA to regulate e-cigs as tobacco products (not as a way to quit smoking).
Marketing of e-cigs has gone viral. The Internet, social media and personal testimonials claim that e-cigs are a safe alternative to smoking. However, these claims are not supported by science. Many respected public health organizations and advocacy groups, such as the World Health Organization and the American Lung Association, have serious concerns about using electronic cigarettes. A recent study showed serious changes in the lungs of e-cig users after just minutes of use. E-cig users have reported injuries from the device itself. There also are concerns about toxic exposure to nicotine on the skin when opening the cartridges, which are not child safe. Cancer-causing agents and harmful chemicals have been found in the e-cig vapor.
E-cig use quadrupled from 2009 to 2010. Although some people report they were able to quit smoking by using e-cigs, there is no scientific evidence that this works.
In fact, the FDA does not permit manufacturers to make such claims.
Health organizations recommend prohibiting the use of e-cigs in public places until more is known about the cartridges and the vapor.
Ellen J. Hahn directs the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy and is a professor in the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.