Little known about the effects of smoking electronic cigarettes

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.


About the author: Taylor Abarca

Taylor Abarca (Bakemeyer) is the Social Media Web Specialist at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Contact her at Taylor.Bakemeyer [at]


  1. Clutter says:

    E-cigs do not claim to be quitting aids because they would need to be classified as medical aids. Nevertheless, many people have successfully quit tobacco when all other NRT products didn’t help.

    Pharmaceutical grade PG is an ingredient in asthma inhalers and cough mixtures. Flavourings are food additives and nicotine (found in tomatoes and coffee) are suspended in PG/VG. Hardly poison!

    E-cigs are also useful to those who miss the physiological pleasure of smoking ie hand-mouth-draw-inhale-exhale and use 0mg nicotine.

    There have been limited studies in USA and Europe which have not found adverse lung and heart effects. There are no longterm studies because e-cigs have only been available since 2005.

    What we do know is cigarettes continue to be legally sold despite evidence that millions have died because of tobacco related illnesses.

    I’ll take my chances with my e-cigs, thanks and it won’t be one of those daft lookie-likies pictured.

  2. Joe Ullman says:

    The FDA gets major amounts of money for the recommendations that they give for smoke cessation. I do not trust an agency that approves a drug that makes a person want to kill them self as a possible side effect. They ignore the testimony of thousands of people that have successfully quit or lowered their consumption of nicotine through the use of e- cigs. I personally stopped smoking traditional cigarettes in a matter of days when I start using an ecig. I smoked a pack and a half a day for 27 years, now I am down to 6mg of nicotine a day consumption afters being on ecigs for 2 years. To me that is a success. BTW I know exact what goes into the ejuice… I make my own and measure my own nicotine.

  3. David Barlow says:

    I smoked for almost 20 years. I tried numerous times to quit. I tried cold turkey, the patch, gum, lozenges as well as several other methods and always ended up smoking again. I tried e-cigs about 3 and a half years ago and have not had a cigarette since. In that time I have also cut my nicotine level by a third. Your statement of the effects of propylene glycol on an individual’s health are unknown are simply not true. Propylene glycol is used in many types of gel cap medication. It has also been used in asthma inhalers since the 1950s. There have in fact been numerous studies on propylene glycol. E-cig deliver a much more predictable dose that I ever got from any other form of NRT that I tried. The statement of the chemical contents are not known is also untrue. The liquid I use has the ingredients listed on the bottle. You can find a lot of useful information about e-cigs at