It has long been known that smoking cigarettes is harmful to the health, but electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, entered the market claiming to be a healthy alternative. A new review published by the Addiction Journal validates these claims, citing that switching can help current tobacco users reduce cigarette use or quit altogether.
This latest research, published Wednesday, confirms what many smokers and doctors thought to be true. The international research team, funded in part by the U.S. Institute of Health, examined 81 existing studies on the subject analyzing safety, chemicals and use.
Four ingredients make up the e-cigarette: nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and flavoring. Tobacco is not included. With an e-cigarette, the smoker inhales vaporized liquid nicotine instead of the tobacco smoke that they would inhale with a traditional cigarette. That is the trade-off many believe is a healthy alternative. The process of smoking an e-cigarette is called “vaping.”
It is important to recognize that e-cigarettes are not yet an FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy. The FDA has approved other methods to quit smoking, such as nicotine gum, patches, and lozenges. Many smokers, however, prefer the e-cigarette and the similarity it provides to the smoking experience.
This is also one of the disadvantages mentioned in the study as it has the potential to provide a gateway to smoking. However, there is little evidence to support that claim according to senior author of the review, Dr. Hayden McRobbie, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine. He says, “Use of e-cigarettes by people who don’t smoke is very rare.”
Second-hand smoke still is a factor with e-cigarettes, although less of one. There are a few of the same toxins used in cigarettes, but at lower levels. Because of this, some researchers advocate taking a cautious approach until more studies are done.
Peter Hajek, an author of the paper and professor at Queen Mary University in London, is not one of them. According to Hajek it is important that regulators do not cripple the e-cigarette market and fail “to give smokers access to these safer products that could save their lives.” Hajek added that “If harsh regulations are put in place now, we will damage public health on a big scale.”
Researchers associated with the study suggest electronic cigarettes should have fewer regulations than tobacco, but oppositionists say it is prudent to wait until further evidence is gathered. The World Health Organization is considering a policy to restrict sales and use. Many medical organizations have joined the rally advocating for restrictions. To this, according to Hajek, all of the current evidence suggest that “e-cigarettes should be allowed to compete against conventional cigarettes in the marketplace.”
The trend in e-cigarette use is rising, proving to be more than just a fad. Glenn Cate of Knoxville, Tennessee, opened a store called Vintage Vapors in September 2013 and says there are now more than twenty e-cigarette shops in the city. “It shows this isn’t just a fad,” he says.
It appears current evidence supports that e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to the cigarette, providing another option for smokers choosing to quit. As Dr. McRobbie said, “If there are any risks, these will be many times lower than the risks of smoking tobacco.”
By Stacey Wagner