You see someone take a drag off their cigarette and exhale, so you hold your breath in preparation for the secondhand smoke that is about to appear as you walk by. But when you finally have to take a breath, it’s not smoke you smell, but… cherries? Turns out, the smoker isn’t smoking at all, but “vaping” — the term for using an electronic cigarette, or personal vaporizer.
These e-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that often look like regular cigarettes, except there is no tobacco involved. An atomizer heats a liquid containing nicotine, turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled. Instead of smoke, you’ve got a vapor cloud that only looks like cigarette smoke. First introduced in China in 2004, e-cigs allow users to get a nicotine fix without the tar and carbon monoxide that are found in tobacco cigarettes.
There are two sides to the e-cigarette coin. Some say that these e-cigarettes are a great substitute for regular cigarettes, and they’ve been credited with helping some nicotine addicts quit smoking. As a former smoker — I smoked for a year in my late teens — I see the benefits. Smoking is an extremely hard habit to kick, so if there is a way to taper the nicotine fix without doing as much damage to the lungs or inhaling as many chemicals, it might be one way to help those who want to quit. One study even showed “no health concern” in e-cig vapors.
Detractors, though, say that e-cigarettes prolong nicotine addiction and that the fun flavors may appeal to kids — kicking off an early nicotine addiction. Plus, there’s the fact that an FDA analysis of two popular brands found variable amounts of nicotine and traces of toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens. Yet another showed “immediate harm” to the lungs after smoking an e-cigarette.
While the products are so far unregulated, there has been recent a recent push for additional research and regulation on the products. Smoking cessation experts recently weighed in, urging more unbiased research as the third and largest big tobacco company plans the launch of an e-cigarette this fall. The FDA has issued warnings about e-cigarettes in the past, saying that there is no way of knowing whether they’re safe or how much nicotine and other chemicals are being inhaled during use. But it’s important that we find out how safe these e-cigs are as U.S. consumers will spend $1 billion on the product this year, up 10 times what was spent four years ago.
The FDA — rumored to begin regulation this fall, according to Bloomberg.com — has said that it intends to regulate electronic cigarettes and related products in a manner consistent with its mission of protecting the public health — and in the meantime, recommends a number of approved options for smoking cessation.
If you’re a smoker, would you use e-cigarettes as a means to quit? Or would it just be another way to get a nicotine fix?