Clear the Air: The Truth About E-Cigarettes, Vaping and Smoking

Vape. According to the Oxford Dictionaries, it was the 2014 word of the year. What does it mean?

Typically, it is used as a verb meaning to inhale or exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or another device. So why was it the word of the year?

e-cig still nicotineThe Rise of E-Cigarettes
Over the last five years, sales of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have grown from nearly zero to a multi-million dollar industry. E-cigarettes deliver nicotine without tobacco. They can look like cigarettes, pipes, pens or lipstick .

At first, many people who used e-cigarettes were smokers who chose e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. But things changed, and over time the e-cigarette industry has gained momentum.

The number of new, younger consumers grew. The word “vape” emerged as a way to describe this activity and to distinguish it from traditional smoking.

But are e-cigarettes a better choice? And are e-cigarette makers targeting a younger generation of nicotine users?

Are They Safer than Cigarettes?
Manufacturers market e-cigarettes as safer than regular cigarettes, but health experts aren’t sure. On one hand, the vapors do not contain the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke. But e-cigarette users still breathe in nicotine, a highly addictive drug.

In the short term, inhaling the vapors may cause coughing, sore throats and other minor complaints. But there have not yet been long-term studies to examine their safety.

Researchers have also raised concerns about secondhand exposure to vapors from e-cigarettes. Some people, including pregnant women and former smokers, could face harm from nicotine or other chemicals found in exhaled vapor in the air. More research is needed to understand these effects, too.

Can They Help You Quit?
Some studies suggest e-cigarettes can help smokers quit. But many doctors remain skeptical. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medications and tobacco products, hasn’t approved them for this use.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently released updated recommendations on smoking cessation. The report includes information on e-cigarettes as an aid to stop smoking. The USPSTF found that there is not enough evidence to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes for this use.

lung xrayAre They Helping Create a New Generation of Smokers?
One problem: Adults might reach for e-cigarettes to help them quit or cut back on smoking. However, many children and teens who didn’t previously smoke have started vaping. This might actually increase their risk of smoking later on, rather than decreasing it.

That leads many to wonder if e-cigarettes are more dangerous for kids than they are helpful for adults who are trying to quit smoking.

Recent research shows that the number of middle and high school students using electronic cigarettes tripled from 2013 to 2014 to include 2 million students. E-cigarettes are now more popular among teenagers than traditional cigarettes, the use of which has fallen to the lowest level in years.

That may seem like good news, but little is known about the safety of e-cigarettes. Some things that are known: they are unregulated, and almost all of them, including some that say they are nicotine free, contain nicotine. Nicotine is not only addictive; it can have a negative impact on health, including brain development in adolescents.

E-cigarette manufacturers don’t have to follow the same marketing rules as the strict standards set for cigarette manufacturers. And anti-smoking advocates are concerned about aggressive marketing to young people. This marketing, including fruity-flavors and sample giveaways at concerts and sporting events targeted at young people, might lead more kids to start vaping earlier.

Be Careful
Because they’re not regulated, it’s hard to know exactly how much nicotine and other chemicals e-cigarettes contain. Doctors have more to learn about the effects of these devices on the human body and the environment.

In the meantime, experts say it’s safest not to introduce new chemicals into clean air — or clean lungs. If you’re trying to quit smoking, ask your doctor about methods that have been shown to help, including other nicotine replacement products. For more information on quitting smoking, visit smokefree.gov.

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