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What's the debate about e-cigarettes?

By Dr. Jose Canario, former Medical Director, Finger Lakes Community Health

There’s been a lot of talk about e-cigarettes – what are they, are they safe to use? What harm do they represent? Too often we’re led to believe something is not harmful to our health only to later find out that it is. So why start using something new?

The facts about e-cigarettes or vaping

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) “scientists still have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking.” However, they also say, “e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products.” So, if you’re smoking this may be the lesser of two evils if your end goal is to quit smoking. Obviously, you’re better off just quitting smoking regular cigarettes.

What we do know is that e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products. But let’s start at the beginning.

What are e-cigarettes?

You may have heard them referred to as “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” to name a few. Some look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some resemble pens, USB sticks, and other everyday items. What do they have in common? They all heat liquid chemicals (“e-juice”) into a mist you breathe in like a cigarette or pipe.

One of the most frightening parts of e-cigarettes is how quickly young people are adopting them. Though smoking cigarettes has gone down over the years, smoking e-cigarettes amongst youth has reached alarming levels. In 2019, the CDC reports that over 5 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 10.5% of middle school students and 27.5% of high school students.

Why are e-cigarettes harmful? In a word, nicotine.

One of the main reasons e-cigarettes are discouraged is that they contain nicotine, the same nicotine contained in cigarettes — very harmful and addicting. Nicotine is harmful to growing fetuses and developing brains of youth until they’re in their early to mid-20’s.

And according to Web-MD, nicotine in e-liquid goes quickly from your lungs to your bloodstream. It causes your body to release adrenaline, a hormone that raises your pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rate. This could play a role in raising your heart attack odds. You may also feel more alert and need to cough.

And e-cigarettes contain an aerosol that can hold cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles that reach deep into the lungs. None of this is good news.

What can you do?

If you or someone you know is using e-cigarettes, help them to understand the risks associated with them. There is a lot written about this topic but I would suggest you go to reliable sources such as the Center for Disease Control, Know the Risks website from the Surgeon General, click here Most important, ask the medical professional you have a relationship with. This is important. When cigarettes were introduced, we weren’t aware of the harm and now we know the damage they can do. Please do your research, talk to medical professionals, and most of all, don’t start smoking or vaping. It’s just not healthy.