Cautions About E-Cigarettes

We live in a world of technology, convenience, and fast-moving trends. So when we see someone in San Diego smoking, or “vaping,” from a device that looks like a glowing high-tech pen, we are naturally intrigued. E-cigarettes have been a rising trend for the past few years and have been endorsed by former cigarette smokers and hipsters alike, but mounting concerns about the unregulated product have finally prompted an official response. The FDA issued a proposal that would ban selling e-cigarettes to minors and further regulate distribution of e-cigarette products.1 A number of questions, including the long-term effects of e-cigarette use and disputes on whether e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes, should be considered by current users and those considering the use of e-cigarettes. Here are some cautions regarding e-cigarettes:

1.       They can be costly. The cost of e-cigarettes can be anywhere from $10-$200. The $10 e-cigarettes only last for a few days and must be discarded. The more expensive ones require continuous maintenance, including changing cartridges, recharging, and cleaning out liquid. Studies have shown that the cost of e-cigarettes is generally the same or in some cases, higher, than tobacco cigarettes.

2.       They can be appealing to children and teens. The number of adolescents and teens using e-cigarettes has increased.2 With flavors like bubblegum and gummy bears, kids are drawn to these products. There have been a number of reports of unintentional exposure through ingestion of e-liquids and e-cigarette aerosol in children, as well as reports of children choking on e-cigarette components.3  In addition, e-cigarettes may contain highly addictive nicotine, which can potentially lead to early addiction.

3.       There can be unidentified and harmful ingredients. Although some e-cigarette companies provide the list of ingredients in their liquids, there are still a number of them that do not. E-cigarette businesses are everywhere, from kiosks at the mall to lounges on the street corner, and many of them are creating their own uniquely flavored liquids. This can make it difficult to keep up with ingredients found in each solution. The CDC reports that poison center calls involving e-cigarettes went from 0.3% in September 2012 to 41.7% in February 2014.2 The new FDA proposal would require ingredient disclosure.

4.       We still don’t know the long-term effects. Swallowing e-cigarette liquid is said to be safe, but studies on long-term effects are inconclusive. One study shows that the aerosol exposure from vaping may be associated with respiratory function impairment that is similar to smoking traditional cigarettes.5 There are not enough studies that show definitive long-term effects on users, as well as potential second hand effects on those around the users. The FDA proposal would require warning labels on e-cigarettes and other similar nicotine containing products.   As e-cigarette use continues to grow, the effects on health and safety have become a more urgent matter.  It may have been one of the goals of e-cigarettes to reduce diseases and death by replacing tobacco products with vaporizers, but until conclusive results on the effects of e-cigarettes are available, there is no way of knowing if those goals are realistic. Until studies have shown efficacy and safety results, it may be best to approach e-cigarettes with caution.

References 1. FDA (2014, April 24). FDA proposes to extend its tobacco authority to additional tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved April 25, 2014, from 2. CDC (2013). Notes from the Field: Electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students United States, 2011–2012. (2013, September 6). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 29, 2014, from 3. Durmowicz, E. (2014). The impact of electronic cigarettes on the paediatric population. Tobacco Control23(Supplement 2), ii41-ii46. 4. Blucigs (n.d.) What are the ingredients in blu e-liquid? blunation. Retrieved April 28, 2014, from 5. Callahan-Lyon, P. (2014). Electronic cigarettes: human health effects. Tobacco Control23(S2), ii36-ii40.doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051470.

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