Experts Question Safety of E-Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” are crude drug delivery systems for refined nicotine that pose unknown risks, two experts write in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from the American Legacy Foundation’s Steven A. Schroeder National Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies write that e-cigarettes have more in common with asthma inhalers than with cigarettes, according to Science Daily.

E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine in the form of a vapor, which is inhaled by the user. They usually have a rechargeable, battery-operated heating element, a replaceable cartridge with nicotine or other chemicals and a device called an atomizer that converts the contents of the cartridge into a vapor when heated.  E-cigarettes often are made to look like regular cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in April that it would regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, not as drug-delivery devices.

Last year, the FDA lost a court case after it tried to treat e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices, which must satisfy stricter requirements than tobacco products, including clinical trials to prove they are safe and effective. FDA tests found that the liquid in some e-cigarettes contained toxins besides nicotine, as well as cancer-causing substances found in tobacco. Some public health experts say the level of the cancer-causing agents is similar to those found in nicotine replacement therapy, which contains nicotine extracted from tobacco.

The authors list several safety concerns about e-cigarettes. They note that the devices do not reliably deliver nicotine, and have not been sufficiently studied in the same way the FDA requires other smoking-cessation drugs and devices to be evaluated. Therefore, smokers who try to use e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking are likely to find them ineffective because of their variable nicotine content and unreliable delivery, they say.

They also note that smokers may use e-cigarettes in places where traditional tobacco smoking is not allowed, thus encouraging them to keep smoking instead of quitting. E-cigarettes also may become a smoking “starter” product for young people. E-cigarette cartridges can be bought over the Internet with flavors such as chocolate and grape, they write.

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    August 2, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    I have smoked golden virginia and various brands of cigarettes since i was 16. Just before turning 40 i was coughing loads at night and in the I bought an e cigarette from our local market and the feeling of smoking was better than rubbish patches,mints and chewing gum. I have not had a real cigarette or roll up since december. (7 MONTHS) and my cough has gone, i smell better too so i say they have to be better i know i am a hell of a lot better for it and have more money too as i fill my own filters too which saves more cash. If you want to stop smoking then i say give them a go, you may not regret it!

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    July 25, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    I can not comment on what scientists think but I can say that in the 2 years I have been using electronic cigarettes my health has drastically improved and also my 4 year old grandson(who lives with me) has not had a single asthma attack since I began using them. Check out for e cig reviews and information.

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    Lacey Horst-Thomas

    July 25, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Yes, e-cigarettes may not be a safer alternative for the person actually smoking them, but aren’t they a safer alternative for the people around them? I recently had a baby and my mother decided to replace her cigarettes with e-cigarettes in order for me to feel comfortable with her being around my son. I don’t want him subjected to second hand or third hand smoke from her, and this seemed like a great alternative, seeing as how she is unwilling to quit smoking altogether.

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