E-cigs: No tobacco smoke, no health risks? Not so fast

E-cigs: No tobacco smoke, no health risks? Not so fast | Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

Aug. 2, 2014—Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, are getting popular. And they might seem like a good way to kick a smoking habit, since they provide nicotine without the smoke. But health experts aren’t convinced just yet.

In a position statement, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (which includes the American College of Chest Physicians and the American Thoracic Society) cautioned that more studies are needed before experts can feel certain that e-cigarettes can safely help people break free of nicotine—or whether they might even lead to more problems.

A virtual smoke

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that often resemble real cigarettes, but they might also look like pens or other common objects. Typically, nicotine, flavoring and other liquid chemicals are heated and inhaled as a vapor. Vaping, as this is called, is gaining in popularity, particularly among young people. And that’s raising some concerns.

On the one hand, it’s true that e-cigarettes produce less tar and cancer-causing chemicals than cigarettes do. That means they could help to cut the risks of tobacco-related diseases a smoker might face. However, the health risks of e-cigs haven’t been adequately studied, researchers said.

For example, when it comes to the chemicals in e-cigarettes, the details aren’t fully known, the statement noted. And the nicotine in e-cigs is not without risks either. It’s highly addictive, and it’s been linked to serious health problems in young children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and other people with health issues, researchers said. Without close regulation and monitoring of e-cigs, the amount of nicotine in them could vary, the researchers said.

In addition, studies haven’t found that e-cigarettes are better than nicotine-replacement products or a placebo at helping smokers quit, according to the statement. In fact, there’s some concern that e-cigs may actually prompt some people to get hooked on nicotine and could reduce the number of people who quit smoking. The devices might also make smoking appear socially acceptable, researchers said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already proposed regulations that, among other things, would require makers of e-cigarettes to fully describe their ingredients. But as a precaution, the statement suggested, policy makers should restrict or ban e-cigs—at least until further studies are complete—or regulate them like medicines or tobacco. Read the full statement here.



The take-home message
While it can be tempting to lean on e-cigarettes to help you quit smoking, it’s clear that at least some experts don’t feel that the devices are safe. So if you smoke and want to quit, ask your doctor about other stop-smoking options, such as nicotine gums or patches. They can help ease withdrawal symptoms so that it’s a little easier to quit.

Being prepared can also help you handle the smoking urge. For example, are after-dinner cravings especially difficult? Stock up on gum or healthy snacks to use instead of lighting up.

And think about—even jot down—your reasons for quitting. For instance, maybe you want to reduce your risk of cancer or protect your family from secondhand smoke.

Whatever your reasons for quitting, do your best to hang in there. Millions of people have quit smoking—and you can too.

Find out more about the benefits of quitting smoking here.

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