E-cigarettes: Not so harmless

During the first half of the 20th century, traditional cigarettes became a phenomenon, with about 51% of men and 33% of women smoking, according to the American Lung Association. With the discovery of the many health ailments caused by tobacco use and the advent of stricter guidelines for advertising, the usage rate has steadily declined.

The weakening demand for traditional cigarettes is amazing, but the newest marvel on the market is the electronic cigarette, known as e-cigarettes. The e-cigarette is currently a $6-billion industry and is expected to climb to $44 billion in 2023.

As a health educator who teaches QuitWell, a five-week tobacco cessation program offered by Prisma Health, I’ve observed that about 50% of my participants also use e-cigarettes along with traditional cigarettes. Just because e-cigarettes have fewer chemicals than traditional cigarettes doesn’t mean they are safe to use.  Electronic cigarettes have been proven to affect brain development in users between ages 18-25 and has the potential to cause irreversible lung damage. E-cigarettes also have only been on the market since about the mid 2000’s—we still do not know what other health diseases they may contribute too.

Currently, there aren’t many regulations on e-cigarettes. Much like traditional cigarettes in the mid-20th century, the advertisements, flavorings and ingredients are not regulated. Sometimes QuitWell participants believe they are using electronic cigarettes that contain no nicotine; however, due to the lack of regulations, the labels don’t legally have to list their ingredients. You very well could still be using nicotine at a higher rate, even if the label claims there is none present.

If you are trying to quit traditional tobacco, I strongly encourage you to schedule an appointment with your physician. There are FDA-regulated sources such as nicotine patches, nicotine lozenges and nicotine gum that are better alternatives than e-cigarettes. You and your physician should work together to decide which quit method is right for you!

Chasidy Reese is a health educator with Greenville Health System’s QuitWell program. For more information about e-cigarettes, visit this page from the American Lung Association.


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