Electronic Cigarettes: Helpful or Harmful?

Emily Lin, Contributing Writer

“Electronic cigarettes are undoubtedly safer than tobacco cigarettes…” proclaim experts. “…They are low risk compared to regular cigarettes.” However, others remark, “Nicotine emitted by e-cigarettes combines with chemicals in the air to form extremely potent cancer-causing chemicals, and e-cigarettes might worsen users’ nicotine habits.”

Ever since their increase in popularity over the past few years, e-cigarettes have been a huge hit with smokers all over the world. Advertising campaigns have declared that they are a healthier alternative to actual cigarettes, and manufacturers claim that this new kind of cigarette is an effective way to slowly encourage heavily-addicted smokers to stop smoking real cigarettes. However, many doctors and investigators have also argued that e-cigarettes are more harmful than traditional ones and that advertisers market false claims. With all this controversy surrounding this relatively new device, the question is obvious: is smoking an e-cigarette really a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco? Or do e-cigarettes do more harm than good? What is the real story behind it all?

What exactly is an electronic cigarette and why is it so popular?

An electronic cigarette is a smoking device meant to imitate real cigarettes, but without all the thick, chemical-filled smoke. E-cigarettes are made up of a battery-powered heating source and a cartridge containing nicotine-filled liquid. Together, the cartridge and battery work to emit a clear, odorless vapor when a smoker draws on the cigarette. And, like normal cigarettes, electronic cigarettes give off a taste of tobacco, imitating the feeling of smoking an ordinary cigarette without all the unhealthy chemicals–or so they say.

These new, modernized cigarettes have become so popular with the public because of their seemingly less harmful qualities. E-cigarette vapor is clear and odorless, unlike the thick, dark smoke inhaled from traditional cigarettes. In addition, a study completed by the Roswell Park Cancer Institute has shown that electronic cigarettes may have 9 to 450 less toxicants than traditional cigarettes. So, the amount of harmful chemicals second-hand smokers breathe in is supposedly nowhere near the amount inhaled from ordinary cigarette smoke. An added bonus is that e-cigarettes are green; Craig Youngblood, CEO of InLife e-cigarette company claims that “for every odor-free e-cigarette cartridge people throw in the trash, smokers throw 20 smelly cigarette butts out their car windows.” All in all, e-cigs are supposed to be a healthier choice for smokers and the environment alike.

So what’s so bad about electronic cigarettes?

While e-cigarettes seem to be an effective way to encourage long-time heavy smokers to stop their unhealthy habits, it also can be an easy way for teens and young adults to start smoking. E-cigarettes are readily available everywhere, whether it’s at a local mall kiosk, a nearby Quick Chek, or even Seven Eleven. In addition, e-cigarettes come in many delicious flavors like chocolate and strawberry, making it very appealing for non-smokers to give smoking a try. So, while e-cigarettes may be drawing old smokers off their old habits, the amount of new smokers they attract may equal or even outnumber the amount of old smokers believed to be on the path to quitting.

Next come the issues of harmful chemicals. Even though e-cigarettes have fewer harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes, it doesn’t mean they are blame-free, either. E-cigarettes still have chemicals like nicotine, propylene glycol, and others, some of which are cancerous and addictive. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes also emit harmful chemicals like nicotine and acetaldehyde, though to a much less degree. According to an article from no-smoke.org, “E-cigarettes are a new source of chemical and aerosol exposure and their potential health impact is a concern that should be investigated further.”

Finally, e-cigarette manufacturers are not required to disclose all the ingredients included in e-cigarettes on labels, nor are they approved by the FDA for facilitating quitting smoking. This means that much more harmful ingredients could be included in an e-cigarette, and users would not even be aware.

So how do e-cigarettes compare to regular cigarettes?

Both regular and electronic cigarettes have their pros and their cons. Regular cigarettes emit thick, dark smoke that is extremely poisonous. This smoke contains more harmful chemicals than e-cigarettes overall. However, both types of cigarettes emit harmful, cancerous chemicals, none of which can be considered completely safe. E-cigarettes seem to provide a way for heavy smokers to slowly stop their unhealthy habits and stop smoking once and for all. However, at the same time, e-cigarettes may encourage just as many young people to begin smoking. The conclusion? E-cigarettes are definitely not a healthy alternative to traditional smoking. Though to a lesser degree, e-cigarettes emit many of the same harmful chemicals traditional cigarettes do, and many of the ingredients included inside an e-cigarette aren’t even regulated by the FDA, which is an undoubtable safety hazard.

As for which is better, it’s a toss-up. From the young adult’s perspective, who has just been swayed into trying the new, strawberry-flavored e-cigarette, e-cigarettes are a definite setback health-wise. But for the long-time smoker’s point of view, who hopes to stop his or her lifetime habit of traditional smoking, e-cigarettes may just be the solution they need. Whatever the situation, however, one thing is for sure: both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes are detrimental to a person’s health, and the wisest decision would just be to stay away from them completely.

The following resources were consulted for this article:

  1. http://no-smoke.org/learnmore.php?id=645
  2. http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/features/ecigarettes-under-fire
  3. http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/anti-smoking-group-claims-that.html
  4. http://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/ashtray-blog/2013/12/electronic-cigarette-quotes.html
  5. http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/features/electronic-cigarettes
  6. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/08/new-research-e-cigs-safer-alternative-to-regular-cigarettes/