E-Cigarettes Are Safer, but Still Pose Risks

By Carroll, Aaron E | International New York Times, May 11, 2016 | Go to article overview

E-Cigarettes Are Safer, but Still Pose Risks


Carroll, Aaron E, International New York Times


Nicotine without the bad stuff is the promise. But the new devices can push people toward conventional cigarettes, as well as away from them.

People get hooked on cigarettes, and enjoy them for that matter, because of the nicotine buzz. The nicotine doesn't give them cancer and lung disease, though. It's the tar and other chemicals that do the real harm.

A robust debate is going on among public health officials over whether electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, can alleviate the harms of smoking tobacco, or whether they should be treated as negatively as conventional cigarettes. In other countries, such as Britain, officials are more in favor of e-cigarettes, encouraging smokers to switch from conventional to electronic.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued new rules on e- cigarettes, banning their sale to anyone younger than 18 and requiring that adults under the age of 26 show photo identification to buy them.

Electronic cigarettes carry the promise of delivering the nicotine without the dangerous additives. The use of e-cigarettes by youth has increased sharply in recent years. In 2011, about 1.5 percent of high school students reported using them in the last month. In 2014, more than 12 percent of students did. That means that nearly 2.5 million American middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past month.

The problem is that nicotine is generally considered less safe for children and adolescents than for adults. Poisoning is possible. It's thought that nicotine may interfere with brain development. Most worrisome, it's believed that becoming addicted to nicotine in any form makes smoking more likely later in life.

E-cigarettes are perceived to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and they are thought to be useful aids to quitting. These perceptions are not always fully grounded in evidence.

There's enough research about e-cigarettes to have warranted a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. A 2014 study in the journal Circulation analyzed the data from a number of angles. For instance, researchers found that the aerosol from e-cigarettes was significantly lower in toxins than from conventional cigarettes, though toxins could be detected. Those exposed secondhand were also at much lower risk from e-cigarettes than from traditional ones, though some risk might still exist.

Another review published that year came to somewhat similar conclusions, and noted that at least a third of the scientific articles on the topic had authors with conflicts of interest. It also reported that studies found worrisome compounds in the aerosol, especially in the flavorings and propylene glycol. …

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