Health & Medicine

The truth about e-cigarettes and why they may not help you quit smoking

Eli Colon
Eli Colon

Worldwide, tobacco use causes nearly six million deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking, and while the number of people smoking cigarettes is waning as there is increased awareness about the negative health consequences tobacco can cause, e-cigarette usage, or vaping, is on the rise.

E-cigarettes are often marketed as a healthier and safer way to smoke. Unfortunately, most people who use them to smoke don’t actually know what’s in them.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that work by heating liquid tobacco and converting it into a vapor that can be inhaled. You have to be 18 to buy them and show an ID if you’re under 27.

They can contain unregulated amounts of nicotine, which can be dangerous for those with heart problems.

Flavorings and harmful chemicals are also usually in the liquid. Formaldehyde is one such chemical, which is used to produce household products, as well as diethylene glycol, another ingredient that is also used in antifreeze that can cause cancer. Diacetyl is also used in some of the flavorings, which is a chemical that has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious lung disease.

E-cigarettes have only been readily available in the United States for a little over 10 years, though they have become popular in that time period — particularly among teens. As a result of their short time on the market, there’s limited research on their health risks. However, some smokers view them positively because they claim they’ve helped them quit smoking.

While the verdict is still out on just how harmful e-cigarettes might be, there’s certainly no scientific evidence that using them is safe. Because they’re not FDA regulated, users can’t be sure what sort of fumes they’re inhaling. However, the fact that chemicals are in the fumes means any number of lung inhalation injuries are possible.

According to the FDA, there’s also no evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers quit. If you’re hoping to quit smoking, there are many proven methods that you should try first.

While some people attempt to quit cold turkey, nicotine replacement therapies often help people succeed. These include nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, sprays and lozenges, which help you quit by giving you nicotine without the use of tobacco.

Counseling and behavioral therapy that helps you learn how to break the habit part of smoking is also helpful to many. Prescription medications are also available, which do not contain nicotine themselves but work by reducing nicotine cravings.

If you are a smoker and are trying to find proven ways to quit, talk to your physician about medications and other strategies that are safe.

Dr. Eli Colon is with KentuckyOne Health Pulmonology Associates.