An electronic cigarette is a battery-operated device that emits doses of vaporized nicotine, or non-nicotine solutions, for the user to inhale. It aims to provide a similar sensation to inhaling tobacco smoke, without the smoke.

Also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, electronic nicotine delivery systems, vaporizer cigarettes, and vape pens, they are marketed as a way to stop or cut down on smoking.

These devices do not burn tobacco. Instead, they have cartridges filled with nicotine and other chemicals. The e-cigarette heats the liquid chemicals into a vapor or steam that a person inhales, which is why using these is often called “vaping”.

Are e-cigarettes a safe alternative to smoking? 1

Rising Trend

E-cigarettes have been taken up by millions around the world since they first appeared on the Chinese market in 2004. In 2016, 3.2 %of adults in the United States were using them.

The growing trend for using electronic cigarettes has caused quite a stir among medical experts. So far, research suggests e-cigarettes are less risky than traditional cigarettes because they do not contain tobacco. As most of us know, tobacco cigarettes carry high risks of lung cancer, heart disease and a multitude of other adverse health affects.

The higher risk implicated by tobacco smoke means doctors and oncologists tend to agree that e-cigarettes are a far safer methodof nicotine delivery than cigarette smoking. Indeed, a report published by Public Health Englandsuggests vaping may be 95% safer than smoking. E-cigarettes have therefore been highly praised for helping many individuals quit smoking tobacco.

How they work

Most e-cigarettes have:

  • a mouthpiece, or cartridge
  • a heating element
  • a rechargeable battery
  • electronic circuits

As the user sucks on the mouthpiece, a sensor activates a heating element that vaporizes a flavored, liquid solution held in the mouthpiece. The person then “vapes,” or inhales, the aerosol solution.

So, do e-cigarettes really cause cancer?

Are e-cigarettes a safe alternative to smoking? 2

Currently, there are no established links between e-cigarettes and cancer. A studyhas shown that the levels of carbon monoxide and cancer-causing chemicals found in the body after using e-cigarettes are not comparable to those found after using regular cigarettes.

Regardless of the other chemicals in e-liquids, it is important to consider that e-cigarettes, by their very function, contain highly addictive nicotine. There is even evidence that e-cigarettes have become a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes in some young people. This is a disturbing finding considering that the initial intent of e-cigarettes was to help people quit smoking.

Recent research

In January 2018 results were publishedof lab and animal studies assessing how nitrosamines, present in e-cigarettes, can damage DNA.

The researchers found that the ability of lung cells to repair after exposure to e-cigarette smoke was significantly reduced. In addition, the smoke damaged the lungs, bladder, and heart in mice.

They conclude: “It is therefore possible that E-cigarette smoke may contribute to lung and bladder Cancer, as well as heart disease in humans.”

Meanwhile, a report published in The BMJ in February 2018, urged doctorsin the United Kingdom to tell smokers that “vaping is at least 95 percent less harmful than smoking.”

In the U.S., the FDA have not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking aid.

The debate rages on.

Take home message

International Oncology Journalsuggest there is currently little evidence of vaping being a completely safe alternative to smoking. Even though e-cigarettes have not yet been implicated in causing cancer (and attempts have been made to regulate potentially lung-harming e-liquids), there simply has not been adequate time to establish the exact health risks. Vaping therefore cannot be recommended in evidence-based guidelines.

Key Points

  • An electronic cigarette is a battery-operated device that emits doses of vaporized nicotine, or non-nicotine solutions, for the user to inhale.
  • The researchers found that the ability of lung cells to repair after exposure to e-cigarette smoke was significantly reduced.
  • They concluded: “It is therefore possible that E-cigarette smoke may contribute to lung and bladder Cancer, as well as heart disease in humans.”
  • In the U.S., the FDA have not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking aid.

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