e cig 2Thinking about using electronic cigarettes to help you quit smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes?  Think twice:  The reality is, not much is known about the health effects of using these devices, and there’s little evidence that they help smokers quit.

Electronic cigarettes, commonly known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that look like regular cigarettes and contain nicotine.  The liquid inside the device is heated and turns to vapor when it is inhaled. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain no tobacco.

Many large cigarette companies, such as Greensboro-based Lorillard, are acquiring e-cigarette manufacturers and are promoting their use.

“No safety studies have been done on e-cigarettes, and the chemical contents are not yet known,” says Arnold Levinson, PhD, investigator with the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Director of the University Health Smoking Cessation Service. “The long-term health risks are therefore unknowable.”

When the Food and Drug Administration analyzed the devices, it found that the liquid in many of them contains a substance called propylene glycol, which creates the vapor.  Propylene glycol is also an ingredient in fog machines and antifreeze.  The effects of this substance on an individual’s health are unknown.  In addition, the FDA found trace amounts of unknown toxic chemicals in e-cigarettes.  Some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer.   The FDA does not regulate e-cigarettes. This means that there is no oversight guaranteeing that products on the market are safe.

There is also little evidence that switching to e-cigarettes will help you quit smoking, despite some tobacco companies’ assertions.

“E-cigarettes are not a method of quitting. They do not deliver predictable doses, and the available evidence suggests that e-cig users continue to smoke regular cigarettes rather than quitting,” says Levinson. “Medicinal nicotine is safe and designed to replace the amount of nicotine a smoker is addicted to.”

There are numerous ways to stop smoking without using e-cigarettes.  The University of Colorado Cancer Center recommends nicotine replacement products: patches, lozenges, gum, nasal spray, and inhalers.  “A reasonable approach for quitting cigarettes is to start with the nicotine patch, give yourself a few days on it, and if you feel you aren’t getting enough craving control, add one of the other forms as needed.  Gum and lozenges are the most widely used for this purpose, but inhalers are fine too,” Levinson says.

In the medical world there is little known about the long-term health effects of smoking e-cigarettes, nor is there scientific evidence that suggests they will help you kick quit smoking. Levinson, like other professionals in the medical mainstream, does not encourage the use of the devices; “No medical or scientific authority has found e-cigarettes to be a safe alternative to smoking.”  

Want more information?  Read this article by the Mayo Clinic.