According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 cigarette smokers use e-cigarettes. But are they good or bad for you?
Instead of inhaling smoke as with regular cigarettes, users of e-cigarettes inhale vaporized liquid made up of a mixture of water and nicotine as well as other substances sometimes added for flavor and texture.
Since this vapor has a much lower content of carcinogens than traditional cigarettes, and since people tend to take fewer puffs on average (and thereby inhale less of the product), e-cigarettes seem to have a lower risk for both smokers and bystanders.
But this is only part of the picture, cautions Jock Lawrason, M.D., a pulmonologist and chief medical officer for Nantucket Cottage Hospital in Massachusetts. Once the vaporized nicotine is inhaled, it enters the bloodstream through the lungs and stimulates receptors in the brain to satisfy the ongoing need for nicotine.
“E-cigarettes don’t have the dangerous chemicals and irritants that we are exposed to from regular cigarettes such as tars and other carcinogens, but they do have nicotine in them, which is still isn’t safe.”
Dr. Lawrason adds that nicotine is known to produce several reactions in our bodies, including rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, reduction in the oxygen supply of vital organs, blood clots, and reduced insulin levels, and may cause certain cancers on its own – no smoke required.
Another major concern, noted by the CDC, is that while several e-cigarette manufacturers make models that deliver progressively lower amounts of nicotine (including models with zero nicotine), that’s only one ingredient.
“E-cigarette use is growing rapidly,” says CDC director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Yet there is still a lot we don’t know about these products.”