A man smokes from an electronic cigarette.
September 13, 2016 | by The Polyclinic

Are e-cigarettes a safe way to stop smoking or a gateway for kids to start a potentially deadly habit?

The reviews are mixed about whether e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to regular cigarettes. However, access to e-cigarettes are not. “Vape shops” have been popping up all across the country, making it easier for teens to access e-cigarettes.

Starting this summer new FDA e-cigarette regulations went into effect: you must be 18-years-old to purchase an e-cigarette, just like traditional cigarettes, and business owners must check the ID of anyone under the age of 27.

What is an e-cigarette?

An e-cigarette is a battery-operated device that can look like a pen or real cigarette. Some are equipped with a refillable tank filled with liquid that’s typically made up of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals.

A heating device turns the liquid into vapor that is inhaled when you take a “drag.” Using an e-cigarette is called “vaping”. There are more than 450 different brands of e-cigarettes and 7,000 flavors (think bubblegum, menthol, bacon, etc.). The industry generates more than $3 billion each year according to a Boston University study.

Are e-cigarettes safe?

While most e-cigarettes do contain some level of nicotine, many experts consider it a safer alternative. However, there is not definitive evidence to support this position.

Most harm from cigarettes comes from the many chemicals that are burned and inhaled in the smoke.

  • E-cigarettes don’t burn, so people aren’t exposed to the same number of toxins as cigarettes.
  • There are fewer chemicals in e-cigarettes.
  • Until this summer, e-cigarettes were not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Do e-cigarettes lead kids to smoke?

Some fear that e-cigarettes could cause kids to get hooked on nicotine, and be a gateway to cigarettes for a bigger “kick.”

A recent study in Pediatrics found that teens who never smoked but used e-cigarettes were six times more likely to try cigarettes compared to teens who do not use e-cigarettes. However,
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smoking dropped to a historic low of just under 11 percent during 2015, the same year that e-cigarette usage increased to 24 percent.

The CDC does consider e-cigarettes unsafe because they contain nicotine, but debate continues over how they compare with traditional cigarettes and their impact to a person’s health. Dr. Mary Weiss, Polyclinic family medicine doctor, said, “Any kind of smoke is bad for the lungs, so vaping, in that regard, is better than smoking. But vaping remains unhealthy due to the harmful chemicals is contains. And thankfully, we’re seeing new regulations to help keep them out of the hands of kids.”

More research needs to be conducted in order to fully prove that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, as well as their effectiveness in helping people quit smoking.