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Words of caution about e-cigarettes

By Staff | Oct 23, 2009

It has recently come to the attention of Lake Region District Health Unit Tobacco Prevention that electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes” are being sold in this area. Before tobacco users purchase these expensive products we thought that they should know what they are buying.

Electronic (or e-) cigarettes are devices that claim to contain no tobacco or stem material, but are designed to look like conventional cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. They produce a mist or vapor upon each inhalation by the user that resembles and tastes like the smoke produced by conventional tobacco products. E-cigarettes are intended to be manipulated and used (inhaled) in ways similar to how a smoker manipulates and uses conventional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

While e-cigarettes claim to have no tobacco, they should not be considered a safe alternative to smoking combustible cigarettes. The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation, Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis (DPA) analyzed the electronic cigarette cartridges from the two leading brands and revealed that with the same label were tested and each cartridge emitted a markedly different amount of nicotine with each puff. The nicotine levels per puff ranged from 26.8 to 43.2 mcg nicotine/100 mL puff.

Other FDA findings from analysis indicated that electronic cigarettes expose users to harmful chemical ingredients. One sample was found to contain diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze. Several other samples were found to contain carcinogens, including nitrosamines. What is most concerning is that the long term health effects of the electronic cigarettes are largely unknown.

While electronic cigarettes are considered by some as a potentially less dangerous alternative to cigarettes or a potential smoking cessation aid, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved usage, distribution, or advertising of electronic cigarettes in the United States because there is no publicly available independent research on the safety or effectiveness of electronic cigarettes.

There are numerous methods for treating tobacco use addiction that have been thoroughly researched and are endorsed by health care professionals. Specifically the U.S. Public Health Service issued the 2008 Guideline on Treating Tobacco Use Addiction. Use of electronic cigarettes is not an evidence-based treatment approach, nor is there current peer-reviewed research to suggest that it is a device that should be added as a safe and effective method for treating nicotine addiction.

Smokers wanting to quit smoking should contact a local health care provider for assistance, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to speak with a trained quit coach, or contact Lake Region District Health Unit Tobacco Prevention at 662-7035 for advice.

Berg and Shively are the LRDHU Tobacco Prevention Coordinators.

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