Do e-cigarettes help people quit smoking? Do they just lure kids into smoking? Are they less hazardous than real cigarettes? These questions and many more make up a very active debate surrounding e-cigarettes and getting a real, clear, and fact-based answer is very tricky. People on both side sof the debate are passionate and the devices are currently unregulated by the FDA, so that only adds to the questions.
To begin with, what is an e-cigarette? In its simplest form, an e-cigarette is a battery, atomizer and a cartridge that holds flavored liquid containing nicotine. A heating element causes the liquid to become a vapor (more like steam than smoke). The user inhales the vapor, gets a shot of flavor and a boost from the nicotine but supposedly without many of the nasty chemicals and particles found in traditional cigarette smoke. The devices are not that old. The original was invented by a Chinese pharmacist looking for a way to kick his three-pack-a-day habit. He succeeded and by 2009, his invention hit U.S. shores. Today, e-cigarettes can be bought in many places from drug to convenience stores and surveys indicate their popularity is growing.
Experts on both sides of the question tend to argue over the actual safety of the devices (some cartridges have been found to contain carcinogens) and whether they act as a gateway that will lure young people into smoking actual cigarettes if they get hooked on the nicotine buzz. Smokers who use them to try to quit report they are less expensive (cartridges equal to 20 real cigarette run about $10) and less obtrusive than real cigarettes (less smell and social outcast issues). One early study showed they are more effective than nicotine patches in helping smokers quit, but only a tiny amount and everyone agrees more study is needed.
Finally, with makers offering cartridge flavors that include gummy bear, atomic fireball and cookies and cream, the whole kids smoking issue is obvious. Not all states regulate the sale of e-cigarettes, so there is cause for concern as minors can legally purchase them in many places. In the long run, the devices probably need to be regulated and sale needs to be limited to adults. Under those circumstances, they may, indeed, be a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes, but we’ll just have to wait and see what they discover and whether the FDA acts.
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Image courtesy of www.personal.psu.edu.