Health Risks Associated with E-Cigarettes
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Health Risks Associated with E-Cigarettes

Because E-Cigarette companies do not report to the FDA, the danger that may be associated to the factory cigarette look-alikes remain a mystery and is at best unclear. The FDA does regulate the manufacture of e-cigarettes companies that tout a therapeutic advantage to their smokes. But, that is the extent of its regulation. There are key factors that indicate E-Cigarettes may present a health risk to smokers. Disclaimers included in the content of e-cigarette company’s websites are one of those factors. The wording is reminiscent to the Surgeon General's warning label attached to factory cigarette packages. The bottom line is, the jury is still out as to the efficacy and safety of e-cigarettes. To date there is no definitive proof either way. Among people who want to quit smoking, support is growing, but e-cigarette usage is not being supported by major organizations that normally encourager smokers to quit. The American Cancer Society, The American Heart Association and the Center for Tobacco-Free Kids have not endorsed the product.
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Description and Definition

Simply stated,E-cigarettes are electronic dispensers of nicotine. The device is designed to look and feel like real factory manufactured smokes and are powered by battery in most cases. However, electronic cigarettes can be smoked via USB computer connection or even plugged directly into an electrical outlet. 

E-cigarette manufacturers claim the product has only three ingredients aside from flavoring: nicotine, water, and propylene glycol. The product ingredients are FDA approved.

An e-cigarette has four parts.

  • Inhaler-or filter
  • Liquid container and atomizer-produces the vapor from nicotine substance
  • Battery- (and logic board) the body of the e-cigarette, which maintains electronic function.
  • Indicator Light- for decoration and imitates the burning portion of a paper cigarette. It burns red when the smoker inhales.

Federal Drug Administration Complaints

In 2010 the FDA attempted to stop the manufacture of e-cigarettes until companies could prove the cigarette's safety through clinical trials. The American Cancer society, The American Heart Association,The Action on Smoking and Health and the Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, stood behind the FDA. The FDA's attempt was squelched in the courtroom.

The FDA published the following warning: 

" is not known if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death."

The FDA, on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, also informed consumers that currently, "without sufficient study of e-cigarettes, consumers cannot be sure the product is safe". The agency contends that it is  unclear how much nicotine or additional harmful chemicals are inhaled during use. The FDA went as far as to say it is impossible to know whether or not there are benefits to utilizing the product, given the fact that there is no documented data.

The FDA sent warning letters to five distributors of e-cigarettes in 2010, claiming they violated portions of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. A few of the accusations included in the warning letters were:

  • Unsubstantiated drug claims
  • Lack of good manufacturing practices
  • Utilizing the devices as delivery mechanisms for active drug ingredients

The five e-cigarette companies that received warning letters from the FDA were targeted because of claims, without FDA proof, that their product was effective in the treatment of nicotine addiction. 

Recent Studies

There have only been a few studies conducted by independent agencies that research the health risks or benefits of e-cigarettes. The research has been limited by the number of people enrolled in the study and the fact that e-cigarettes have not been around long enough to garner a glut of information.

E-cigarette companies have marketed the product as a healthy alternative to smoking, or as a proven way to help smokers quit. But, this remains to be seen.

  • One study by Greek researchers, found that healthy smokers had changes in their lung function after puffing an e-cigarettes for only five minutes. This begs the question, 'how will e-cigarettes affect lung function for long term e-cigarette smokers?'

The Greek study discovered the smoking subjects to have air constricted and inflamed airways. The conlusion- more studies are need to determine the long term effects of smoking e-cigarettes. Of course a benefit of non-smoking e-cigarettes is no second hand smoke. 

In a Chest Journal interview, Constantine I. Vardavas, of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard School of Public Health, referred to the Greek study as the first evidence of physiological effects from e-smoking. She also went on to say the long term benefits for smokers wishing to cease from smoking, may outweigh the negative effects- IF e-cigarettes are used in the short term as a bridge between smoking and quitting all together. Vardavas statement and the findings by the Greece Study was reported in the journal Chest.Unlike, the nicotine patch, prescription medications, like Zyban, e-cigarettes are not a proven method for assisting smokers to quit. 

  • A second, Italian study conducted by Ricardo Polosa from the University of Catania, subjected forty cigarette smokers to e-cigarette devises over a six month period. More than fifty percent of those who vaped on the e-cigarette cut their smoking habit in half. The Italian study seemed to indicate that e-cigarettes could be a great tool for anyone wishing to cease from smoking regular cigarettes.
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