The Latest Word on E-Cigarettes

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Clinical research is difficult because humans are complicated creatures, and it should therefore come as no surprise that research findings and the conclusions we draw from them can be contradictory. Nothing illustrates this better than two recent reports about electronic cigarettes published within 24 hours of each other.

In one, published by Public Health England, investigators declared that e-cigarettes are safe and “have the potential to make a significant contribution to the endgame for tobacco.” In addition, the findings reported that there is “no evidence so far” that e-cigarettes lead children or non-smoking adults to smoking conventional cigarettes and could actually be contributing to falling smoking rates among both groups. On the heels of that report, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that adolescents who used e-cigarettes before they entered high school were more likely to take up smoking conventional cigarettes.

Before you vape, consider these facts.

What do we make of this disparity? Simple–there just isn’t enough definitive information about the long-term safety of e-cigarettes. So before you’re tempted to join the vaping crowd, here are some things to consider:

  • Short-term side effects include dry mouth as well as mouth and throat irritation; the nicotine itself can, of course, cause its own side effects, including a fast heart rate, increased blood pressure and damage to blood vessels.
  • E-cigarettes deliver aerosolized nicotine in a vapor via a simple electronic delivery system; the nicotine is still addictive.
  • The delivery cartridges have been found to contain trace amounts of known carcinogens. It’s not known whether these pose any long-term dangers; studies also differ on the impact of vaping on lung function.

The bottom line is that while e-cigarettes are associated with (usually) mild short-term side effects, more study is needed to evaluate the long-term consequences of their use.

E-cigarettes may or may not help with smoking cessation.

Can we at least say—as the UK experts insist—that they can be useful tools to help current tobacco users stop? Unfortunately, previous small studies don’t support this view. Most have shown no benefit, and the few that suggest a benefit have found only a very modest impact on tobacco cessation. Again, larger studies will help shed light as to whether e-cigarettes should be added to the armamentarium of lifestyle and pharmacologic tools to help smokers quit.

E-cigarettes pose risk to children, especially toddlers.

One important warning: If you’re a tobacco user interested in trying e-cigarettes to help you quit and you have a young family at home, please note—the liquid nicotine in the cartridges can cause severe vomiting, seizure, and even death if ingested directly or absorbed through the skin. This poses a real risk to children who might discover the flavored cartridges lying around the house and decide to give them a try. The number of accidental poisonings is rising fast, particularly among children 2 years old and younger.

Ready to kick the habit? Read 10 Tips to Quit Smoking for Good.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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