Electronic Cigarettes

Are electronic cigarettes "a miracle" as some users claim, or an unproven-and potentially harmful-smoking cessation aid?

The handyman who does repairs on our house says he started smoking in the cradle. He’s tried to quit smoking countless times and hasn’t been successful until recently when he started smoking electronic cigarettes. He says electronic cigarettes are a miracle.

So what exactly are electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) and are they safe and effective? Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered inhalers, which look like cigarettes, that turn tobacco-free, nicotine-filled liquid into a vapor mist. Consequently, using an electronic cigarette is sometimes called “vaping” and people using them are called “vapers” rather than smokers.

Electronic cigarettes were invented in 2003 by a pharmacist in China and introduced in the U.S. in 2006. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration attempted to regulate electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation device; however, they lost the court battle and now are attempting to regulate them as tobacco products. In a 2010 review of 16 studies by MB Siegel et al., electronic cigarettes were found to have three main ingredients: nicotine (although some do not contain nicotine), propylene glycol, and glycerin. The reviewers couldn’t conclude that electronic cigarettes are absolutely safe and noted that more studies are needed. However, they did note that electronic cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), e-cigarette use quadrupled from 2009 to 2010. In a 2010 survey, the CDC found that 1.2% of adults, or 3 million people, reported using electronic cigarettes in the previous month. Since it’s estimated that about 50 million smoke cigarettes in the US, electronic cigarettes may hold promise for smokers who wish to quit. However, despite the claims of many users who view electronic cigarettes as a miracle, many clinicians are not endorsing electronic cigarettes without further study.