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Electronic Cigarettes: Don’t Hold Your Breath

New technology claims to make smoking healthier, but is the science there?

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Electronic Cigarettes: Dont Hold Your Breath

It goes without saying that we know smoking is a bad idea. But we’ll say it again anyway. Smoking cigarettes damages your arteries, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease (stroke and heart attack), it makes you more susceptible to many other disabling conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, cancer of the mouth and lungs, and dementia, not to mention erectile dysfunction, decreased orgasm pleasure and wrinkling. And it makes your RealAge eight years older, by the damage it causes to your energy level and the havoc it wreaks on your skin; that makes you feel and look older than you are. We think that’s a pretty solid argument against ever starting this nasty and addictive habit.

As more and more people in this country are getting the message to never start or to quit tobacco, a new force has entered the market: electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs. E-cigs look like regular cigarettes, but they are actually battery-powered cartridges that heat up a liquid that contains nicotine. The heat turns the liquid into vapor, which the user inhales instead of smoke. That’s why they call it “vaping” not “smoking.”  If that sounds like B.S., it is because it is—it’s bad science.

The manufacturers claim that vaping is much safer than smoking because e-cigarettes don’t contain tar or produce smoke or ash. And, since you only exhale vapor, not smoke, you might get away with using e-cigarettes in places where smoking is banned. (All smoking, tobacco and e-cigs are banned on Mike’s Cleveland Clinic campuses.) But if all of this makes vaping feel cleaner and more accepted, let's examine the science—that is, are e-cigarettes really safer than tobacco cigarettes?

MORE: How to Quit (A Story Every Smoker or Friend of a Smoker Should Read) 

The answer is: Yes…and we don’t know. They are safer, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. We just don’t know if they should be considered safe for anyone, but probably not, and certainly not the way they are sold. They still contain addictive nicotine and potential carcinogens (that is, cancer-causing agents), and they impede lung function. And the fastest growing group of users is teenagers. Makes you think they are just selling e-cigs to addict teenagers so they will graduate to full fledged cigs. Maybe that’s why e-cig companies have been bought by Big Tobacco. Proponents of e-cigs counter that they reduce the harm of smoking by acting as a substitute. Again, that seems like B.S. (bad science) to us.

The popularity of the electronic alternative has grown over the past several years, but there is virtually no research into any of its health effects. Indeed, only a small handful of studies have been completed, and none has provided adequate sample sizes or long-term results to demonstrate safety. And it’s still the Wild West of e-cigs, so there’s no established standard for contents and ingredients. Indeed, even the Federal Drug Administration states that consumers “have no way of knowing whether e-cigarettes are safe…how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use,” or whether they will entice kids and adolescents to vape or smoke. They probably also cause the same skin aging and wrinkles—in primary and secondhand smokers—as cigarettes, but again, there isn’t the research to say definitively.

Until there is science that clearly shows e-cigarettes to be safe in the long term, it’s best to assume that they are not. Until then, don’t be hoodwinked by the B.S.—and warn your kids about that B.S. as well.

QUIZ: How Healthy-Looking Is Your Skin?

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