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Since 2003, former smokers of tobacco cigarettes have turned to electronic cigarettes as a stepping stone in kicking their addiction. Known as “vaping,” these e-ciggies are widely regarded as a safer (not to mention cheaper) alternative than their tobacco or even herbal counterparts. Does all of the hype present a false hope?
Several states regulate the sale and use of electronic cigarettes. California just took things a step further by declaring e-cigarettes “a health threat” that requires as much regulation as tobacco products. Officials express concern at the addictive qualities of these devices, which do contain nicotine and other possible cancer-causing chemicals. The official report says, “Without action, it is likely that California’s more than two decades of progress to prevent and reduce traditional tobacco use will erode as e-cigarettes re-normalize smoking behavior.”
Officials have called for more research on the devices’ short- and long-term health effects. For sure, e-cigarettes are just as addictive as tobacco. They may contain various chemicals, but they skip the very dangerous tars and carbon monoxide of tobacco cigarettes. Without research, it’s hard to pinpoint whether e-cigarettes provide their own unique health risks.
The general consensus is that e-cigarettes are at least a bit safer than tobacco. They help addicts kick lifelong habits, but are they — similar to heroin and methadone — trading one set of risks for another? Here’s what we know:
1. Nicotine poisonings are on the rise. Hundreds of people call poison control each year after becoming ill from e-cigarettes. As their popularity rises, so do the collective risks.
2. E-cigarettes often contain flavoring, which makes them more appealing to people, especially children.
3. Nicotine hampers brain development, which makes e-cigarettes particularly risky to teenagers.
4. E-cigarettes don’t have a smell, and this can allow teenagers to get away with smoking them without their parents ever knowing about it.
5. Gum and patches are still safer. Until scientists complete long-term studies on the safety of e-cigarettes, the better bet is not to rely upon them as a smoking cessation aid.