By Dr. Wendy AuClair Clark
As a Dentist, I feel it is important to share my voice and expertise with people online, regardless of if they are my patient. The internet can be an overwhelming place filled with vast amounts of important information, as well as misleading information. I find this to be especially true when looking for health related information.
Recently, I have had a handful of people tell me about their experience with the e-cigarette, and it got me wondering if I could be safely recommending this smoking alternative to my patients. While E-cigarettes are aids in quitting tobacco cigarettes, they do not contain any tobacco, just liquid nicotine.
They are usually powered by a lithium ion battery, similar to a cell phone-you plug it in and recharge it the same way. Each company that makes them has their own unique nicotine cartridges refills. From my conversations with people, they seem to be very successful for quitting smoking. They look and feel just like cigarettes, they emit a water vapor rather than second hand smoke, and they even have an LED light on the end so it "burns" like a lit cigarette while it is being inhaled.
I would turn blue in the face if I were to name all the ways that a traditional cigarette could kill you, or atleast dramatically take away from your quality of life. A tobacco cigarette is known to contain approximately 5,000 known chemicals, with an estimated 100,000 unknown chemicals that have yet to be identified according to Michael Siegel a tobacco researcher at Boston University.
Siegel published a paper in the Journal of Public Health Policy which found that the levels of certain harmful chemicals found in e-cigarettes were hundreds of times lower than those found in tobacco cigarettes. They also found that patients who used e-cigarettes as opposed to nicotine gum or patches felt more satisfied with being able to hold something in their hand and mouth, as oral fixation is another issue a lot of smokers face when quitting.
Patients have reported feeling better, probably because they have significantly reduced the level of chemical exposure, and they are also saving money since the cigarettes are reusable.
Where's the Harm?
One of the biggest criticisms of the E-cigarette is the "unknowns." What are the effects of inhaling liquid nicotine? What are long term effects of liquid nicotine exposure? The FDA has struggled to gain regulatory control over the device meaning E-cigs are not scrutinized by the same standards and methods other products are, nor do E-cigarette companies do not have to prove their general safety by these standards.
The U.S. tobacco laws are not applied to e-cigarettes because there is no tobacco in them, meaning kids of any age could purchase the device. The FDA did however do a small study on two brands of e-cigarettes, finding evidence of toxic carcinogens, leading them to issue a warning about potential negative health effects they associated with e-cigarettes. Considering the discrepancy in information provided by the cigarette manufacturers and the scientists and the lack of long term studies, it might be
I LOVE the idea, the design, and the concept of the e-cigarette. However, in spite of the positive reviews I've gotten, I still don't feel confident in safely recommending them. The biggest issue for me personally is the lack of regulation. With nobody supervising the overall content and quality of these E-Cigarettes, the companies are left with a free for all in which no one is responsible for their safety?
Undoubtedly, some of the companies are ethical, and make high quality products. I have heard that some of the companies may still have some carcinogenic chemicals in addition to nicotine in their cartridges as well as in their emitted vapors. And let's not forget about the disheartening story about an e-cigarette that exploded due to a faulty battery that caused a facial injury to the man smoking it! Read Full Story
While you often hear almost ANYTHING is better than smoking, I, along with many other professionals in the medical field are not convinced that these are the way to go. Hopefully with their growing popularity, this product will soon be sufficiently tested and regulated so that we can recommend at least specific manufacturers with confidence.