Once again, it appears to be an uphill battle for anyone to have their cake and eat it too. That is, if cake were cigarettes. Yes, even the electric ones. A new study presented by the American Association for Cancer Research at an annual convention in San Diego this weeks claims that an e-cigarette may be as harmful as its tar-and-tobacco counterpart. Reportedly, much of the research is still in development and more experiments will take place to further diagnosis the risks and rewards of inhaling e-cigarette vapors.
E-cigarettes have taken off as a healthy replacement, often touted as a smoker’s therapy, for tobacco users who have been trying to ween themselves off of the traditional cigarette. Within the last year sales for the copy-cats have increased by 340 percent. Historically, the smoking cessation market sees a steady annual increase, but with the advent of the e-cigarette, the increase has hit a major spike, even though sales of other smoking cessation devices, such as gum or patches, have decreased.
Unfortunately, the e-cigarette boom cannot account for its health benefits. The study presented in San Diego took a look at the biological effects of an e-cigarette and a non-electrical cigarette. Scientists exposed a group of bronchial cells to both kinds of vapor, and research indicated that the gene mutations occurring in each type of smokers’ lungs, although not identical, were shockingly similar. After comparing the results, the risks involved when opting to smoke an e-cigarette may not outweigh the rewards.
Avrum Spira, a genomics and lung cancer researcher at Boston University, says that although e-cigarettes may be a relatively safer option, preliminary studies show that they are definitely not benign. Considering the endless amounts of harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, their assumed absence in an electronic cigarette may cause one to rationalize that the alternative is a better option. However, as the gene mutations have revealed, either choice could lead to increased health risks.
Since the product has become so wildly popular, concerns and questions over their safety and validity as a smoking cessation tool have also risen. As early as 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration brought awareness to the fact that a particular brand contained a chemical found in antifreeze and detected levels of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals in the cartridge unit. In addition, propylene glycol, the chemical which suspends the nicotine in an e-cigarette, has tested positive for adverse changes in lung performance.
For the main part, a majority of the multitudes of products are unregulated, and when evaluated, e-cigarettes delivered 10-15 times more nicotine than a conventional cigarette, even though the people who use the product consider them harmless. The high amounts of nicotine are considered exorbitantly toxic when taken orally. As use of the product becomes even more pervasive, the importance of their regulation is predicted to increase even more, especially if and when negative health issues arise.
Many smokers view e-cigarettes as risk-free and have only focused on the rewards of the alternative, but in the absence of long-term, quality research, the product’s efficacy as a cessation device may remain unknown. It may turn out that within the right guidelines, an e-cigarette may be an acceptable replacement to a conventional smoke. As for now, the assumption that an e-cigarette is not as filled with chemicals as its counterpart is misguided. Also, there is only evidence of the product’s effects on lung and cardiovascular health from short-term use. Without more substantial evidence, it may be difficult to confirm that smoking an e-cigarette is actually better for one’s health.
Opinion by Stacy Feder