I read an interesting article (read it HERE) a few months back about E-cigarettes and I wanted to put up some comments about the article and E-cigarettes in general.
E-cigarettes are devices that were invented by a Chinese pharmacist in the early 2000s. They look very similar to normal cigarettes, but instead of burning tobacco to produce smoke, they use electric energy to vaporize a nicotine-containing fluid that the user will then inhale. Taking a drag on the E-cigarette triggers the device to vaporize the fluid inside.
Proponents of E-cigarettes claim that they are much safer than regular cigarettes and do not expose users to toxic chemicals and carcinogens. Other touted benefits include the ability to “smoke” them indoors where smoking is typically banned and also as a potential way to help people quit smoking regular cigarettes.
Opponents are concerned about the true safety of the inhaled vapor, and also are concerned that the E-cigarettes may be a “gateway drug” that will lead people to start smoking regular cigarettes as well.
What does the evidence say? Well, so far, it’s inconclusive. A recent meta-analysis (a published study that analyzes multiple other studies on the same topic) published in the journal Circulation sheds some light on the issue. You can read the summary HERE. Be aware that one of the authors is Dr. Stanton Glantz, who was mentioned as a “pessimist” about E-cigarettes the NY Times article, so the overall tone of the Circulation paper highlights the risks more than potential benefits.
What is my opinion? First, I agree that more research needs to be done on the subject, and we may still find out that E-cigarettes pose a serious and so far unknown risk to users.
However, regular cigarettes are so terrible for our health. I think most people would agree that tobacco use is the greatest preventable health problem in the world. How many heart attacks, strokes, lung problems, and cancers could be prevented, and how many more years of life could be had if every smoker in the world suddenly quit?
For this reason alone, I would say I’m an optimist on E-cigarettes until proven wrong. Yes, they do emit some harmful chemicals, but those chemicals are at a 100-fold lower level than in conventional cigarettes. And yes, maybe there are some health risks, but we KNOW that regular cigarettes are possibly the most unhealthy thing anyone can do.
One piece of data from the Circulation article that jumped out at me was when they looked at a group of former smokers who started using E-cigarettes. After 1 year, only 6% of them had resumed smoking, and 92% continued using only E-cigarettes. I think that at least 6% (if not quite a bit more) of former smokers would restart smoking anyway in a 1 year time frame, so it seems likely that E-cigarettes are not driving people back to smoking.
In an ideal world, everyone would stop using any cigarettes (electronic or otherwise), but in the real world that we live in, I’d be thrilled if more people smoke E-cigarettes and sales of tobacco keep dropping.