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Are electronic cigarettes safe?

The “vaping community,” or e-cigarette enthusiasts, are an up-and-coming subculture that seems to have no fear. The shocking fact is e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, yet that’s not stopping Americans from using these battery-powered devices.

Electronic or e-cigarettes, also known as electronic vaping devices, simulate tobacco smoking. They contain a heating element that vaporizes liquids to include nicotine and other chemicals, and then are inhaled. 

E-cigarettes are rapidly growing in popularity with an estimated four million Americans using these devices. More alarming is the growth in young buyers. The rate at which middle and high school students were buying these products more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.

According to Ryan Carrick, M.D., pulmonologist with Piedmont Physicians Georgia Lung, “The two most concerning issues with e-cigarettes is the manner in which they are being marketed without regulations, and the marketing and sales of these devices being profit-oriented.” 

Dr. Carrick also highlights these red flags:

  • Inconsistent nicotine doses and other chemicals which are not regulated.
  • No age restrictions on sales (in some states).
  • Concern over marketing directed at teens and children with appealing flavors.
  • Lack of education on effects of nicotine, especially to young buyers. Dr. Carrick warns that an overdose of nicotine can be fatal, especially in children.

Because these products are still relatively new on the market, consumers should be aware of the known facts as well as some unknown concerns.

THE KNOWN:

  • There are 250 different e-cigarette brands for sale in the U.S. today. The chemicals used vary and are not regulated.
  • E-cigs remain uncontrolled by any government agency.
  • FDA regulations forbid e-cigarette marketers from promoting their devices as a way to kick the habit.
  • In lab tests conducted by the FDA in 2009, detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals were found, including an ingredient used in anti-freeze, in two leading brands of e-cigarettes and 18 various cartridges.
  • Two initial studies found formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a carcinogen) coming from secondhand emissions. 
  • Some cities are starting to push for regulations. In March 2014, Los Angeles joined New York and Chicago in approving new restrictions outlawing “vaping” at most public places. 

THE UNKNOWN:

  • ALL of the risk factors.
  • How much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use.
  • If e-cigarettes are a gateway product for youth to use other drugs.
  • The potential harm to people exposed to secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes. 
  • If there are any benefits associated with using these products.

“When a patient comes to me with a desire to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are not part of the program. I can’t guarantee them that they will not experience complications down the road from these products,” said Dr. Carrick. “There are other smoking cessation plans that have been through rigorous testing and shown to be safe and effective.”

Piedmont Healthcare offers several ongoing smoking cessation programs. For more information or to register for classes: 

Piedmont Atlanta Hospital: 1-866-900-4321  
Piedmont Fayette Hospital: 1-866-900-4321
Piedmont Newnan Hospital: 1-866-900-4321 
Piedmont Mountainside Hospital: 706-301-5516
Piedmont Henry Hospital: 678-604-1040

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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