Are E-Cigarettes Better for Health Than Traditional Cigarettes?

Kirsten Schuder
Woman smoking e-cigarette

Since their inception, e-cigarettes have been surrounded by a storm of controversy. While some have touted e-cigarettes as a way to relieve health symptoms associated with smoking tobacco cigarettes and to help people quit, critics are concerned that e-cigarettes are simply encouraging people to go from one addiction to the other.

Positives of E-Cigarettes

Some consider e-cigarettes to be the solution for tobacco addiction. Some studies highlight the positive impacts that occur when people use e-cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco cigarettes.

Fewer Bad Ingredients

E-cigarette manufacturers have presented e-cigarettes as the healthier alternative to regular cigarettes because they contain much less chemicals and carcinogens than tobacco cigarettes. As Medical News Today notes, most doctors agree that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to cigarettes. Since nicotine is delivered via vapor, a liquid heated to the point of vaporization and inhaled just like regular cigarette smoke, this is a safer way to enjoy smoking.

Positive Impact Upon Addiction and Health

A case study in the Journal of Medical Case Reports reported findings that three heavy smokers, all with a long history of smoking, high addiction rates, and previous failed attempts to quit, all successfully weaned themselves off tobacco cigarettes using e-cigarettes.

In each of the cases, when the patient was evaluated before and after, there was a decrease in the amount of carbon monoxide within a person's system. Moreover, each person was able to eventually wean themselves from the e-cigarettes and reported they suffered very little, if any, withdrawal effects from stopping smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Experts feel that this is because e-cigarettes satisfy the psychological dependence smoking creates as part of the habit and the addiction, and must play a big part in why people who have tried to quit before and are not successful can be and have been successful with e-cigarettes.

Potentially Higher Quitting Rate

E-cigarettes are touted as the lesser evil due to the fact that they have many less carcinogens than cigarettes, and are seen as a positive way to get even chronic smokers who have no intention of quitting smoking to quit.

In one study, e-cigarettes were offered to smokers who had no intention of quitting. Even within this group of smokers, 8.7% of the participants maintained complete abstinence from tobacco cigarettes after one year. The researchers felt that if the want or need to quit was present, the quit rate could be higher among people who desire to quit smoking.

Criticisms of E-Cigarettes

While e-cigarettes seem like a solution to ending tobacco cigarette addiction, there have been many concerns related to the health impact of e-cigarettes.

Harmful Chemicals

E-cigarettes are not chaste and pure when it comes to containing chemicals. Some e-cigarettes were found to have diethylene glycol, one of the ingredients for antifreeze. Moreover, the vapors were tested in a study for the first time, and it was found that the vapors contained a disturbing amount of copper, tin and nickel. The reason why this is so troubling is because these substances are acquired into the lungs in very fine particles and easily introduced into the bloodstream.

Effectiveness for Smoking Cessation

More recent studies provided proof for the opposite camp, that e-cigarettes are not effective for smoking cessation. Smokers of tobacco cigarettes had similar quit rates when compared to nonsmokers (13.8% for tobacco smokers and 10.2% for e-cigarette smokers). This could imply that people could have simply substituted one addiction for the other, and that e-cigarettes are no different than tobacco cigarettes.

However, it is noteworthy that some studies compare tobacco smoking cessation with e-cigarette cessation, and some studies have participants substitute e-cigarettes for the tobacco cigarettes, which can cause one to think that these studies are conflicting, when in fact they could just be measuring two different types of phenomenon.

Short-Term Effects on Lungs

A study from the University of Athens, Greece found that after just five minutes of inhaling e-cigarettes, smokers and nonsmokers alike showed an increase in lung passageway resistance, indicating a temporary increase in inflammation of the airway passages in the lungs. Smokers had an increase of airway resistance of 44%, and 24% for nonsmokers. For people with pulmonary diseases, there was no noticeable increase in inflammation.

Because of this, researchers emphasize the need for studies to examine the long-term effects upon health with repeated inflammation of the airway passages.

E-Cigarettes Are Unregulated

E-cigarettes are unregulated by the FDA and are often manufactured in China. This means that a variety of different substances can legally be used in e-cigarettes, including carcinogens and nicotine, and in varying amounts.

Teenagers

E-cigarettes could pose a risk to teenagers. E-cigarettes are viewed as not harmful to health, are legally available to teenagers, advertised heavily on television and other media venues, and come in different flavors that would appeal to kids, such as chocolate and cherry. Moreover, over half of teenagers stated they would try e-cigarettes. This could create an entirely new generation of people who inhale vapors instead of smoke and addicted to nicotine. This could open the possibility of smoking to people and kids who would not have considered smoking in the first place.

The fact that there could be a negative effect on the health of younger kids, in effect, makes e-cigarettes worse for the younger generation who would not have otherwise tried cigarettes at all.

Addiction to Nicotine

Since the use of e-cigarettes are not banned in public places in a majority of states the way tobacco cigarettes are, they can be smoked in public places in lieu of cigarettes. This allows people to smoke anywhere and anytime they want. Moreover, ads for e-cigarettes seem to encourage this behavior, and are being popularized as cigarettes were up until the 1980s.

Moreover, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is comparable to tobacco cigarettes, and it delivers it the same way tobacco cigarettes do, breathing it into the lungs, which delivers a rush of the drug almost immediately to the blood system. Nicotine also carries with it some health risks, especially for mothers who use nicotine during pregnancy. Moreover, nicotine is in itself is considered a carcinogenic substance.

Unknown Factors

With more substances being discovered, and the short-term effects of e-cigarettes on the lungs, the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown. Also an unknown factor is the effect of second-hand vapors on people surrounding the vapor inhaler, including children.

The Food and Drug Administration does not endorse e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices, and acknowledges that the long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes are presently unknown and need more research.

An Ongoing Debate

The debate is ongoing. Proponents of e-cigarettes feel it's the lesser evil and can free the most chronic smokers from dependence, while many feel that there is not enough evidence to support this statement.

To quit smoking, most doctors will suggest using the nicotine patch or nicotine gum. The patch titrates the amount of nicotine down until your body can come off it without as many side effects as going cold turkey, which is a feature e-cigarettes lack. Also, medications such as Zicam are available to help with quitting. Until more is known about the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes, it is better to use caution if you are considering using e-cigarettes as a substitute.

If you are not smoking, you should not start vaping, because vaping does not enhance health and could actually harm it.

Are E-Cigarettes Better for Health Than Traditional Cigarettes?