E-Cigarettes: Helpful or Harmful?

Data is inconclusive in regards to the safety of E-cigarette (also known as E-cigs) use. With E-cigs becoming ever more popular, now with 4 million users, half of them women1 and a growing population of youth, more research is needed to determine long term effects. With no federal 18-and-over law for E-cigs, youth use increased from 3.3% to 6.8% from 2011-2012, with the majority of users smoking tobacco cigarettes as well (dual users).

However, up to one-third of these youth never tried tobacco cigarettes prior to trying an E-cig, which makes them an initiation to the traditional form. The data that has been found indicates lower levels of toxins; however, the aerosol vapor released from E-cigs does still contain nicotine, ultrafine particles, other toxic chemicals, and carcinogens2. A preliminary study reported that the aerosol, much like tobacco smoke, promotes the development of cancer in certain types of human cells, those prone to cancer3. Because most E-cig users continue smoking traditional cigarettes as well (substituting E-cigs for tobacco cigarettes occasionally), they will not reduce their risk of certain health problems such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Smoking over a duration of years is a large determinant of these problems. Quitting smoking altogether would have a higher effect on survival than substituting E-cigs for the occasional tobacco cigarette2.

As it seems E-cigs could be used as a reduction tool for tobacco cigarette consumption4, but the fact remains that most users are continuing to use tobacco cigarettes as well and are about a third less likely to quit smoking altogether compared to those who do not use E-cigs5. The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved E-cigs as a cessation tool2, as there is no supporting evidence of this4.

Across Wisconsin, agencies and coalitions partner with local law enforcement in using a state-wide campaign, called WI Wins, to support the decline of tobacco related diseases. WI Wins uses positive reinforcement to reduce illegal tobacco sales to minors. A program of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, WI Wins contracts with local partners to conduct county-wide investigations of retailer compliance with the law. It congratulates local clerks who do not sell tobacco to youth, while educating those who would. This approach creates community pride by reducing youth access to tobacco products and providing youth a chance to make a difference in their community. Local initiatives also include retailer education and training, media outreach, and community education.

The WI Wins contractor for Dunn, Pepin and Taylor Counties is Arbor Place, Inc., based in Menomonie.

1 Girdwain, J. (2014, March 1). What a Drag…E-Cigs May Not Be Safe. Women’s Health, 68-76.

2 Benowitz, N., Glantz, S., Grana, R., & Ling, P. (2014, May 13). Electronic Cigarettes. Retrieved from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/129/19/e490.full

3 Meier, B. (2014, April 15). Early Data in E-Cigarette Study May Raise Safety Concerns. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/business/e-cigarette-study-data-may-raise-concerns.html

4 Electronic Cigarettes. Potential harms and benefits. (2014, February 11). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24575993

5 Fernandez, E. (2014, May 13). E-Cigarettes Expose People to More Than ‘Harmless’ Water Vapor. Retrieved March 12, 2015, from http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2014/05/114301/e-cigarettes-expose-people-more-‘harmless’-water-vapor-and-should-be-regulated