Are e-cigarettes really a safe alternative for smokers?


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You’ve likely seen them around already, particularly if you noticed what seems to be a trail of cigarette smoke indoors. E-cigarettes are definitely gaining popularity as smokers turn to these electronic alternatives to help them kick the habit. According to an article in National Geographic News, U.S. sales alone are expected to double this year to $1.7 billion. 


How do they work?

E-cigarettes are battery-powered versions of cigarettes, cigars or pipes. They heat up a liquid solution — which may or may not contain nicotine — and once the solution is vaporized, the "smoker" can inhale it. Since some solutions do contain nicotine, initial studies have likened them to nicotine patches. Some solutions, typically the non-nicotine variety, come in an assortment of flavors.


So they are better than real cigarettes, right?

In theory, yes. Some have argued that e-cigs are far more eco-friendly than their real counterparts. The Daily Iowan quoted Konstantinos Farsalinos, a researcher who studies e-cigarettes, who stated that while e-cigarettes may not be completely harmless, “it is obvious that the amount of chemicals found in e-cigarette vapor is lower compared to tobacco by orders of magnitude.”

But there’s the rub. More research is needed. The Food and Drug Association, for example, points out studies have not looked at the potential side effects of inhaling pure nicotine. FDA spokesperson Jennifer Haliski pointed out to Salon that “the FDA intends to propose a regulation that would extend the agency’s ‘tobacco product’ authorities — which currently only apply to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco — to other categories of products that meet the statutory definition of ‘tobacco product.’” She also told National Geographic News that "further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products.”

The National Geographic News article also points out that study published in the Lancet shows e-cigs are no worse than nicotine patches, but neither are they better. And "better the devil you know" seems to be the point many are making.


You know, for kids

A need for more research and a closer look at potential side effects — not only for those using e-cigs but also, apparently, for those inhaling the air around them — are not the only reasons e-cigs are drawing a lot of criticism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release earlier this month titled, “E-cigarette use more than doubles among U.S. middle and high school students from 2011-2012.” That’s right, folks. Even young people who have never smoked real cigarettes are giving e-cigs the old college try. Part of the appeal may be that the solution comes in assorted flavors that, some argue, is appealing to young people, if not geared toward them outright.

The press release says that “1-in-5 middle-school students who reported ever using e-cigarettes say they have never tried conventional cigarettes. This raises concern that there may be young people for whom e-cigarettes could be an entry point to use of conventional tobacco products, including cigarettes.” So e-cigarettes are serving as a gateway to actual smoking.

Is this just the adamant anti-smokers targeting e-cigs unfairly because they want to see abstinence? Are they just a crutch designed to pump extra money out of you while keeping you hooked on the nicotine? Perhaps, but the call for additional research is a valid one.

Still, some users of e-cigs vouch for them and say it's working for them.


Tell us in the comments: Do you use e-cigarettes? And if so, do they work for you? Do you know any young people who are turning to e-cigs despite never having smoked real cigarettes before? Tell us your thoughts about the e-cig controversy, and share your personal experiences with e-cigs below.