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Do E-Cigarettes Really Work? Or Are They Harmful?

Are E-Cigarettes a good way to quit smoking or they actually a health hazard as some health experts think?

The electronic cigarette concept first appeared in a patent acquired by Herbert A. Gilbert in 1963. The device was described as, "...a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette ... to provide a safe and harmless means for and method of smoking by replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air..." Due to the limitations of technology available at the time, and because tobacco was not yet generally accepted as harmful, this device never reached manufacturing.

The modern electronic cigarette was invented by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2003 and introduced to the market the following year. The company he worked for, Golden Dragon Holdings, changed its name to Ruyan (meaning "to resemble smoking"), and started exporting its products in 2005–2006, before receiving the first international patent in 2007.

Some users of the modern E-Cigarette swear by them, telling everyone that will listen that the tech-savvy method actually works. They state adamantly that the E-Cigarette actually helps people stop smoking. Health experts, on the other hand, well at least some health experts question the safety of using electronic cigarettes.

The Health Issues

Food and Drug Administration

In May 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis tested the contents of 19 varieties of electronic cigarette cartridges produced by two vendors (NJoy and Smoking Everywhere). Diethylene glycol was detected in one of the cartridges manufactured by Smoking Everywhere. In addition, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), known cancer-causing agents, were detected in all of the cartridges from one brand and two of the cartridges from the other brand. The study found that the actual nicotine levels did not always correspond to the amount of nicotine the cartridges purported to contain. The analysis found traces of nicotine in some cartridges that claimed to be nicotine-free. Further concerns were raised over inconsistent amounts of nicotine delivered when drawing on the device. In July 2009, the FDA issued a press release discouraging the use of electronic cigarettes and repeating previously stated concerns that electronic cigarettes may be marketed to young people and lack appropriate health warnings.

The Electronic Cigarette Association said that the FDA testing was too "narrow to reach any valid and reliable conclusions.” Exponent, Inc., commissioned by NJOY to review the FDA's study in July 2009, objected to the FDA analysis of electronic cigarettes lacking comparisons to other FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy products where similar levels of TSNA were detected. Exponent concluded that the FDA's study did not support the claims of potential adverse health effects from the use of electronic cigarettes. Furthermore, FDA methods "have been lambasted in journals" by some medical and health research experts who noted the potentially harmful chemicals were measured at "about one million times lower concentrations than are conceivably related to human health.”

American Association of Public Health Physicians

As of April 2010, The American Association of Public Health Physicians (AAPHP) supports electronic cigarettes sales to adults, "because the possibility exists to save the lives of four million of the eight million current adult American smokers who will otherwise die of a tobacco-related illness over the next twenty years." However, the AAPHP is against sales to minors. The AAPHP recommends that the FDA reclassify the electronic cigarette as a tobacco product (as opposed to a drug/device combination

Health Canada

On 27 March 2009, Health Canada issued an advisory against electronic cigarettes. The advisory stated "Although these electronic smoking products may be marketed as a safer alternative to conventional tobacco products and, in some cases, as an aid to quitting smoking, electronic smoking products may pose risks such as nicotine poisoning and addiction.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization stated in September 2008 that to its knowledge, "no rigorous, peer-reviewed studies have been conducted showing that the electronic cigarette is a safe and effective nicotine replacement therapy. WHO does not discount the possibility that the electronic cigarette could be useful as a smoking cessation aid." WHO Tobacco Free Initiative director ad interim Douglas Bettcher stated that claims that electronic cigarettes can help smokers quit need to be backed up by clinical studies and toxicity analysis and operate within the proper regulatory framework. He added: "Until they do that, WHO cannot consider the electronic cigarette to be an appropriate nicotine replacement therapy, and it certainly cannot accept false suggestions that it has approved and endorsed the product."

In 2010, the Tobacco Regulation meeting held in Uruguay came out with warnings about electronic cigarettes. Signatories of the meeting's treaty included representatives of countries and regions such as Canada, Brazil, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Saudi Arabia, where electronic cigarettes had been banned.

The secretariat of the meeting refused and stated that electronic cigarettes do not violate articles 9 and 10 of the framework convention for tobacco control regarding COMPOSITION (toxins, carcinogens, harm to self) or EMISSIONS (second hand smoke or harm to others). The secretariat stated that the problems regarding electronic cigarettes relate to regulatory issues and not to the work that the convention is tasked with. In the memo, they also mentioned that electronic cigarettes can be considered a medical product only IF the marketer wanted to make medical claims, otherwise they are a tobacco product.

Health New Zealand Ltd. study

In 2008, Dr. Murray Laugesen, of Health New Zealand, published a report on the safety of Ruyan electronic cigarette cartridges funded by e-cigarette manufacturer, Ruyan; Laugesen and the WHO claim that the research is independent. The presence of trace amounts of TSNAs in the cartridge solution was documented in the analysis. The results also indicated that the level of nicotine in the electronic cigarette cartridges was not different from the concentration of nicotine found in nicotine patches. John Britton, a lung specialist at the University of Nottingham, UK and chair of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group said “if the levels are as low as in nicotine replacement therapy, I don’t think there will be much of a problem.” The study's detailed quantitative analysis concluded that carcinogens and toxicants are present only below harmful levels. It concluded: "Based on the manufacturer’s information, the composition of the cartridge liquid is not hazardous to health, if used as intended."

Boston University School of Public Health study

A study by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health in 2010 concluded that electronic cigarettes were safer than real cigarettes and may aid in breaking the habit of smoking. Researchers said that while further studies on electronic cigarettes were needed, "Few, if any, chemicals at levels detected in electronic cigarettes raise serious health concerns." Electronic cigarettes were found to be "much safer" than traditional tobacco ones, and had a level of toxicity similar to existing nicotine replacements.

In the report, the level of carcinogens in electronic cigarettes was found to be up to 1,000 times lower than regular cigarettes. It also said early evidence shows that electronic cigarettes may help people to stop smoking by simulating a tobacco cigarette.

The jury is still out

Are E-Cigarettes helpful or harmful? More studies need to be conducted before a definitive statement can be made on that.

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Comments (16)

Very informative and exhaustive.From the studies so far undertaken on the e-cigarettes, they are equally harmful and of course it is a paradox to say that e-cigarettes are helpful in smoking cessation.Thanks.

Just glad I never smoked!

Good work and informative.

Thanks for this article. IMO, the FDA should have tested a variety of e-cigarette brands before publishing their "findings". I say this because some manufacturers are better at regulating the quality of their products than others. Typically, an e-cigarette contains propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG), water, flavoring and nicotine. Trace amounts of tobacco chemicals have known to be found in tobacco juice. Those who vape juices such as watermelon or vanilla have a much lower (or zero) risk of inhaling these chemicals. If you want more information about the safety of e-cigarettes, you can visit the ECF forum's Health, Safety and E-Smoking section at http://www.e-cigarette-forum.com/forum/health-safety-e-smoking/. They also have a subforum for medical research and legislation, if you are interested in reading up on those topics. I was a 1.5 PAD smoker for 25 years before I made the switch to e-cigarettes. So far, I haven't smoked a cigarette in 15 months. I can now walk up a flight of stairs without feeling winded or feeling like I'm having a heart attack. I'm sure there are risks with using e-cigarettes but they far outweigh the risks of smoking traditional cigarettes, which will kill you.

@Deborah Woehr I quit smoking 38 years ago without the help of anything or anyone. When I went cold turkey I was chain smoking and inhaling pipes and cigars.The number of cigars and bowls of tobacco that I smoked in a day was probably equivalent to 2 to 3 packs of cigarettes. I constantly had one or the other in my mouth during my every waking hour. I am a firm believer in mind over matter. If someone really wants to quit, they can do it without an E-Cigarette stuck in their mouth. Happy Holidays

Your comment below says volumes about a desire to quit being paramount. thank you for taking the time to research and produce this for others to read your wisdom about smoking e-cigarettes. I believe it sometimes takes years for the dangers of substitutes to be revealed. You have offered a wonderful short cut for all smokers to heed from your composition.

You are right Jerry Walch, they say it has lower nicotine content or no nicotine at all but still... they need to have a cigarette in their mouth. If somehow they could stop having one then it would be good.

Like you, I used to believe you could stop if you wanted - so I did for months - but, I had problems and went to the doctor, who said stopping smoking was causing these problems, (I kept falling over and other things), and the doctor said I needed to "cut down" slowly, but not stop quickly. I am still struggling with that as it is so much harder than stopping was.

Outstanding article. Being a non-smoker, I never gave much thought to e-cigs. Smoking must be one hell of an addiction. Some people couldn't stop if you offered them a million dollars. I wonder how it will look 100 years from now. No doubt fewer smokers, but a hardcore element will keep puffing away.

Very informative awareness and insights of the e-cigarette effectiveness and hidden dangers.

I vaguely remember reading about e-cigarettes about 12 months ago, and that they were banned in certain countries. I wondered then if it were a disagreement about safety. Now I know! Thank you for this very informative report Jerry.

I am not a smoker, but you got me thinking about my stand on e-cigarettes.

Nice article. voted up

My boss tries the e-cigarette and said they worked great. Fortunately I have never have touched a cigarette in my life.

Finally, all the facts gathered into one article. I have been using electronic cigarette for more than a year now. One thing that was completely eliminated was the second hand smoke. The house smells much better since.

great article and nicely crafted. thank you for sharing

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