E-Cigarettes: Benefiting Health or Increasing Risk?

by Jovaughn Lane, age 14

Electronic cigarettes may produce aerosol vapor instead of smoke, but recent studies challenge whether that makes them any less dangerous than conventional cigarettes.

Cigarette companies pay celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Stephen Dorff to promote e-cigarettes as the more socially acceptable and “guilt-free” option. Among the many benefits of e-cigs—as they are commonly called—are their futuristic look, production of vapor instead of smoke or ash, and delivery of smaller amounts of nicotine than conventional cigarettes.

Whether e-cigs actually provide these benefits was the focus of a study published in The Lancet, the world's leading general medical journal. The study concluded that e-cigs are similarly successful to nicotine patches in helping smokers to quit over a six-month period. This is only the first study to compare e-cigs to a quitting aid that has already been shown to work.

“There is still so much that is unknown about the effectiveness and long-term effects of e-cigarettes,” said Chris Bullen, lead researcher and director of the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He warns that more research is “urgently needed” because nicotine “can be a poisonous substance.”

Alexander Prokhorov, smoking cessation expert at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center commented, “I’m glad that there is finally some tangible research starting to appear.”

But several things still worry Prokhorov. E-cigs have a similar appearance to and require the same rituals as conventional cigarettes. Therefore, it is possible that instead of helping smokers quit, they may actually increase the possibility of relapse.

Though doubt remains that e-cigs are less dangerous than traditional cigarettes, some of their benefits cannot be denied.“There is no question that e-cigarettes deliver less toxins than conventional cigarettes,” said Stanton Glantz, director of University of California—San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. He adds that e-cigs may have as little as one tenth of the toxins inhaled from burning tobacco.

An additional study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the number of U.S middle and high school students using e-cigs doubled between 2011 and 2012, bringing the national number of people who had tried e-cigs to 1.78 million. “My major concern is that this will be a gateway behavior, a potential risk of getting kids hooked on nicotine for life,” says Tim McAfee, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. Prokhorov says, “Psychologically, our society has just started to enjoy a tobacco-free and smoke-free life.”

While e-cigs were created to be a healthy alternative to smoking tobacco, it is clear that they still carry risks. As Prokorov says, "The renaissance of cigarettes in e- or any other form is not a pretty picture.” The existence of any form of smoking will continue to jeopardize people’s health.

[Source: National Geographic; Daily News]