E-cigarettes: Less deadly than regular cigarettes

First, the good news: e-cigarettes are almost certainly less lethal than conventional cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is a uniquely dangerous addiction. In fact, cigarettes might be the only consumer product that kills when used as directed. Cigarettes are the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 480,000 people every year. That’s more deaths than HIV, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, and firearms combined. Smoking increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, COPD, asthma, diabetes, and most cancers. The free radicals in cigarette smoke physically age the human body. On average, smoking reduces your life span by at least 10 years. Tobacco could not possibly be approved for sale in the United States today if it was a new product coming on the market.

A burning cigarette gives off noxious gases, such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. Cigarette smoke also contains an ultrafine suspension of gummy residue, known as tar. Most of the carcinogens in cigarette smoke are found in the tar. The major benefit of e-cigarettes, compared to regular cigarettes, is that they do not produce the tar or the toxic gases found in cigarette smoke. An e-cigarette contains a cartridge of fluid, popularly known as e-liquid. E-liquid is made up of nicotine and flavorings dissolved in propylene glycol and glycerol. The e-liquid is superheated by a battery-powered vaporizer, converting it into a mist which is inhaled, or “vaped.”

Studies about e-cigarettes and smoking behavior show conflicting results. E-cigarettes were mildly helpful in kicking the habit in one clinical trial. In other studies, e-cigarette use did not increase quit rates, or was even associated with a higher risk of continuing to smoke. A recent review concluded that real-world use of e-cigarettes is associated with lower quit rates.