Sarah Miller, RN and Jessica Becker
Revised December, 2010
What are e-cigarettes?
E-Cigarettes are battery-operated devices shaped like cigarettes that contain nicotine, flavor, and other chemicals. These devises are being advertised as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes, because they use vapor rather than smoke. But there is no evidence that they are safer than regular cigarettes, and some of the chemicals they contain could potentially be hazardous. We know that it is not just the smoke in cigarettes that causes cancer, but chemicals in the tobacco itself. This is why people who use “smokeless” tobacco are still at risk for mouth and throat cancers. An analysis of e-cigarettes conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that e-cigarettes contained many chemicals that are also found in regular cigarettes and other tobacco products and known to cause cancer.
Is it possible that e-cigarettes are at least a little safer than regular cigarettes?
Gamucci America Electronic Cigarette company claims that “to our knowledge, no cases of e-smoking related cancer have been reported,” but that is a ridiculous statement because cancer takes years to develop. This is a new product and it would not be possible to study the health effects on cancer until the product has been sold for at least 15-20 years, probably more.
The body’s reaction to the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke causes chronic inflammation, which in turn leads to chronic diseases like bronchitis, emphysema, and heart disease.1 Since e-cigarettes also contain toxic chemicals, there is no reason to believe that they will lessen the risks for these diseases.
You may have also heard that free radicals produced by the smoke from cigarettes can damage veins and arteries and lead to heart disease.2 It is possible that the “vapor” from e-cigarettes may contain fewer free radicals because it is not smoke. This does not prove, however, that they will actually decrease a person’s risk for heart disease or other smoking-related diseases compared to regular cigarettes.
Don’t be fooled. E-cigarettes are addictive and contain cancer-causing chemicals.
What’s being done about e-cigarettes?
In September 2010, the FDA took the first step in regulating e-cigarettes. They sent a warning letter to five distributers of e-cigarettes. These distributers were E- CigaretteDirect LLC, Ruyan America INC., Gamucci America (Smokey Bayou INC.), E-Cig Technology INC. and Johnson’s Creek Enterptises LLC. All five of these companies claimed that their product could be used to help smokers quit regular cigarettes. If a company makes a claim that its product can be used to treat a disease or addiction, like nicotine addiction, the FDA must first agree to the accuracy of the claim. After this warning letter, three of the companies took their websites down, and another changed its policy to say that their e-cigarettes are not intended to be used as a way to quit smoking. The fifth company hasn’t yet made any changes to their website at all. You can read the FDA press release from September 9, 2010:
In December 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that the FDA can only regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products and not as drug-delivery devices. This means that the makers of e-cigarettes won’t have to do testing on their products to prove to the FDA that e-cigarettes are safe and effective as a stop smoking aid. The good news from the ruling is that now e-cigarettes will have to follow the same restrictions as traditional cigarettes and tobacco products. Because of this ruling, e-cigarettes can only be marketed for pleasurable use, not for the therapeutic benefit of a drug or medical device. There is the possibility for the FDA to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
1. Stoller, JK & Juvelekian, G; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; 2010 Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education. Retrieved fromwww.clevelandclinic.meded.com/diseasemanagement/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease on Sept. 2, 2010.
2. Ambrose, JA & Barua, RS; The Pathophysiology of cigarette smoking and cardiovascular disease: An update; Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2004, 43(10) pp. 1731-7.