Clarification about e-cigarettes:

8/6/13:

Should we be happy about the arrival of e-cigarettes or not? It’s not a simple issue.

Regarding health of the user, if someone who frequently smokes cigarettes uses e-cigs instead, then they avoid the vast majority of the thousands of toxic chemicals in smoke, which is good. They are still getting nicotine and potentially low levels of a few other toxic chemicals, and are still inhaling fine particles, but it’s presumably better for them than smoke.

If they are using e-cigs as a step to quite nicotine altogether, then early studies are mixed about whether this works (personal testimonials aside, which only reflect individual experiences). E-cigs come in different nicotine levels down to 0, so someone could theoretically work their way down.

So for smokers who turn into vapers, it’s unlikely to be worse for them. However, they should be aware that they aren’t inhaling completely harmless stuff, and kids can start smoking the candy-flavored e-cigs due to lack of regulation of flavorings, or lack of limits on sales to minors. Studies are necessary to show whether vaping causes harmful effects so that people can make informed decisions about their own use, and to show if they should be regulated in terms of how appealing they can be made for kids.

Regarding health to bystanders, I’d rather stand next to a vaper than a smoker because nothing is being produced by the e-cig in between puffs, and the puffs themselves lack most of the chemicals in smoke. However, a recent study showed that people exhibit signs of nicotine in their bodies after being next to someone vaping an e-cig, which makes sense, because at least part of what you inhale gets exhaled into the air being breathed by the person next to you. It’s important to know how secondhand vapor affects bystanders before just assuming that they aren’t being harmed.

Importantly, even if the presence of one vaper across the room from you turns out to not harm you at all, the presence of 10 vapers standing near you could. These are the issues that determine whether to limit public vaping, and if so, under what circumstances.

To sum up, even though e-cigs appear to be safer than cigarettes from a public health standpoint, and provide advantages to cigarette smokers, we can’t assume that “less harmful” means “harmless.” Our research can provide important extra information to help make these informed decisions.

 


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