Where there's no smoke, there's still fire. E-cigarettes—battery-powered
devices that emit a nicotine vapor that users inhale—are growing
in popularity. But an increasing number of health experts say the devices
aren't a safe alternative to cigarettes.
The lungs are an extremely sensitive organ and e-cigarette users inhale
substances that could cause damage, says Raymond Casciari, MD, FCCP, chief
medical officer at St. Joseph Hospital, Orange. Irritation or damage and
the effects of the nicotine on the heart and blood vessels are associated
with high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, he said.
Even though they don't have many of the same chemicals as regular cigarettes,
e-cigarettes are unregulated and what goes in them depends on the manufacturers.
That, coupled with the lack of long-term studies on the effects of e-cigarettes,
makes it difficult to assess the health risks. "With something like
this, there is always the potential for lung irritation or damage,"
Dr. Casciari says.
Medical studies of e-cigarettes are still trying to catch up to this fast-growing
market. Use of the electronic devices among adult cigarette smokers doubled
in just one year, from about 10 percent in 2010 to about 21 percent in
2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control. E-cigarettes raked
in $500 million in sales in 2012, with a projected total of $1 billion for 2013.
However, the World Health Organization has cautioned people about the unknown
risks e-cigarettes pose. And the European Respiratory Annual Congress
released a study that found people who inhaled e-cigarette vapor subsequently
had difficulty breathing.
While some smokers use the devices as a way to quit the real thing, Dr.
Casciari points out that the quit rate using e-cigarettes is only 14 percent.
The other 86 percent have just substituted one addiction for another or
added to the things they are addicted to, he said.
"Using an e-cigarette is very similar to smoking a cigarette, and
that can reinforce the dependency on the need for nicotine, rather than
break the habit," he said.
Going "cold turkey" or using nicotine gum or patches are safer
and more effective ways to try to quit, he said.
For more information about St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, click
here. To find out more about Dr. Casciari, click