Pharmacists Mardoqueo Martinez and Tara Storjohann debate the use of electronic cigarettes


Pharmacists Mardoqueo Martinez and Tara Storjohann debate the use of electronic cigarettes. 

QUESTION: My son came home from college this past month and while catching up with him I discovered that he had started using electronic cigarettes. He is very open about these things and let me know many of his friends in college are using electronic cigarettes too. These “new age” cigarettes seem like the “hip” thing to do. My question to you is what is the truth behind e-cigarettes?

ANSWER: Trends come and go, it seems like just yesterday that people were carrying around fanny packs and sporting mullets. Just like fashion trends, we have seen less and less people smoking and most public places ban cigarettes altogether. Gone are the days that you could smoke on a plane or pull out a cigarette during a stressful day at work. But with classic cigarette use decreasing the newest fad seems to be the increasing use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). You may be able to spot these new-age cigarette-shaped devices in public being used to puff out clouds of odorless fog.

Should we be concerned about the increasing use? We live in the age of the internet where information is often twisted and misinterpreted. I have seen headlines boasting the safety of e-cigarettes and how they can be an extremely useful tool and safe alternative to the harmful effects of classic cigarettes. I have also seen the opposite where critics say it is too soon to tell whether what is being inhaled is safer or perhaps even more dangerous than classic cigarettes. The unknown is frightening, so let’s take a look at some information about e-cigarettes.

What are E-Cigarettes?

E-Cigarettes are battery powered vaporizers which simulate the feeling of smoking minus the burning tobacco. The user activates the device by pressing a button and inhales a liquid solution that

typically contains propylene glycol, glycerin, water, nicotine, and flavorings (e-liquid). Upon exhalation, the user releases vapor instead of smoke, this process is commonly called “vaping.” The vapor released has a very low odor and is much different than the classic cigarette. Although, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed to regulate e-cigarettes, they currently remain unregulated.

Critics vs. Supporters

A recent study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research reported that the number of never-smoking youth who used e-cigarettes increased from 79,000 in 2011 to more than 263,000 in 2013.The potential long-term benefits and risks associated with e-cigarette use are not currently known. What is known is that nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote nicotine addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use – making the increasing use of e-cigarettes among U.S. youth a major concern.

Supporters of e-cigarettes want to show how e-cigarettes can helpful to those who wish to quit smoking classic cigarettes. They claim that by utilizing e-cigarettes the person gets much of their psychological need met and can slowly decrease the amount of addictive nicotine they inhale. A more recent trial looking at just that showed that there was no difference between e-cigarettes and nicotine patches in helping people to quit smoking, it actually showed that neither was very effective.

Another concern and topic for debate the ingredients in the e-liquid. Because e-cigarettes are unregulated by the FDA, we don’t know for sure what’s in them. Companies typically claim the ingredients to be propylene glycol, glycerin, water, nicotine, and flavorings. Unlike classic cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco so they don’t produce the characteristic black tar that clogs the lungs which is linked to heart disease. Advocates use this fact to say that they are safe, but it is not all rainbows and sunshine: the e-liquid contains the addictive stimulant nicotine. The range of nicotine content in the e-liquid can vary from zero to up to 72 milligrams per milliliter while the classic cigarette has only about 15 milligrams. Because of the nicotine, users may find themselves wanting more and more. In fact, a CDC study published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported that the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. A core concern is that smokers that have quit completely will develop a nicotine addiction or worse, non-smokers who try e-cigarettes may move on to classic cigarettes.

What does it all mean?

There’s been a significant increase in e-cigarette use in recent years, particularly among kids and teens, as well as smokers looking for an alternative to traditional cigarettes. But lack of basic consumer protection and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight leaves concerns unanswered about the health and safety of these products.


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