Bee Healthy: Electronic nicotine delivery devices safer than cigarettes?

February 15, 2014 

Electronic nicotine delivery systems, also known as electronic cigarettes, electronic vaping devices or personal vaporizers, are plastic inhalers shaped like tobacco products, pens, USB drives or other common items. They deliver nicotine in the form of water vapor and tend to be promoted as a healthy alternative to smoking.

Many people use ENDS as aids to quit smoking, but are they really a safe and effective tobacco cessation tool? The World Health Organization says you may want to consider the following facts before using electronic nicotine delivery systems.

Not FDA-approved. ENDS are not currently government regulated. Candid disclosure of all product ingredients is not enforced. Essentially, there is no way for consumers to know exactly what they are inhaling. (Note: This does not apply to Nicotrol, which is an FDA-approved nicotine inhaler and an effective aid to quit smoking. It can be obtained with a prescription from a physician.)

May contain harmful chemicals. Some ENDS contain chemicals that are just as harmful as those found in cigarettes. Examples include antifreeze, vasodilators, propylene glycol (a known irritant when inhaled) and potentially lethal amounts of nicotine.

Health effects unknown. There is currently a lack of scientific data indicating the long-term health effects of ENDS, particularly in relation to the lungs.

Efficacy as a quit-smoking aid unproven. There is little existing evidence supporting ENDS as an effective aid to quit smoking. Approved quit aids are effective when used properly. Proper use is based on following product instructions, which are developed through scientific research. There are no “instructions” for using ENDS as a quit aid.

Risk of addiction of nonsmokers to tobacco products. ENDS contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive chemical. Some nonsmokers may be tempted to try ENDS, especially if they are promoted as healthy and harmless. This could lead to a nicotine addiction and may open the door to trying other nicotine-containing products, such as cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.

Risk of poisoning or death. Nicotine is potentially toxic. Certain populations, such as the elderly, those with heart conditions, young people, kids and pets, are especially vulnerable (particularly if nicotine is ingested). Any product containing nicotine poses a risk of adverse health effects and possible death.

Additional research is needed to identify the long-term risks of ENDS and their efficacy as an aid to quit smoking. Until such research is conducted, use caution and make informed decisions when considering using these devices.

Jessica Jackson is a registered respiratory therapist and certified asthma educator for the Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.

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