Why “safer than cigarettes” doesn’t mean “safe” — understanding how e-cigarettes work

Less than 10 years ago, a lone company in China advertised the e-cigarette as an unheard-of product that was a safer and tobacco-free alternative to regular cigarettes. In 2010, the U.S. market welcomed vaping.

Now, health officials, policymakers, and researchers are working double-time to stay updated with a “rapidly expanding, wildly controversial, and largely unregulated $3 billion global industry.”

The public health community is still debating whether vaping is beneficial or harmful and since “conclusive scientific evidence” is lacking. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report in August which asked serious questions about the health impact of e-cigarettes and pushed for a ban on indoor use and sales to minors.

The report cautioned that because of the growing role of multinational tobacco companies, e-cigarettes could become a gateway for a new generation of smokers, especially since a decades-long public health campaign has now successfully reduced smoking rates in the U.S. and other developed countries.

In August 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also reported that more than a quarter million youth who never smoked a cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013, which is three times the number of users since 2011.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that e-cigarettes be brought under its control alongside tobacco in the spring of 2014, but the proposal is embroiled in debate and lawsuits. Meanwhile, Boston and dozens of other states and cities across the country have banned the use of e-cigarettes indoors.

Avrum Spira, a pulmonary care physician at Boston University (BU) and School of Medicine professor of medicine and pathology and bioinformatics, was one of the first scientists to receive funding from the FDA to investigate the health effects of e-cigarettes. Spira said, “In theory — and how they’re marketed — e-cigarettes are a safer product because they don’t have tobacco, which has known carcinogens.” Spira, who studies genomics and lung cancer, added, “The question is: Does safer mean safe?”

At BU’s Medical Campus, Michael Siegel, a physician and professor of community health sciences at the School of Public Health, is now one of the country’s most high-profile public health advocates for e-cigarettes. Siegel is not currently researching e-cigarettes but he shared that the device could “potentially help large numbers of smokers quit, or drastically decrease, a habit that is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.” However, Siegel cautioned that more research is needed to determine the health effects of e-cigarettes along with their effectiveness in helping people quit smoking.

How do e-cigarettes work?

E-cigarettes are battery-powered, and some kinds can be recharged via USB ports. There are three main categories: cigalikes, which look like plain cigarettes; eGos, which are larger than cigalikes and have a removable tank that can be refilled with a liquid containing different amounts of nicotine and a syrupy synthetic liquid called propylene glycol (a chemical that is generally safe to consume, except at very high levels); and modular e-cigarettes (or mods), which are usually larger than eGos and can be customized.

Tips to quit smoking naturally

While e-cigarettes are often endorsed as a “healthier” alternative, quitting smoking altogether is still the better option. Try the tips below if you want to quit smoking naturally:

  • Eat more sweets — When someone craves a cigarette, sometimes their body just needs carbohydrates. Eat something sweet to curb your cravings, but stick to healthy snacks like apples.
  • Exercise more — It’s easier to quit smoking once you practice a regular workout regimen. Exercise at least five times a week, and make sure it’s vigorous enough that your heart rate reaches about 80 percent to increase effectiveness.
  • Meditate — Meditating can improve your focus, making it easier to quit smoking. You can also listen to at least 45 minutes of meditative music and other audio daily.

Learn more about the dangers of smoking and tips on how to quit smoking at StopSmoking.news.

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