Dear Your Teen:
Are the effects of E-Cigarettes less damaging than regular cigarettes? Should I encourage my teenager who smokes cigarettes to use e-cigarettes instead?
Although there is little dispute that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, there is no evidence that they are, in fact, safe. There is a growing body of research to suggest that the effects of e-cigarettes may lead to negative health consequences.
Recommending e-cigarettes or any product that contains nicotine to someone who smokes cigarettes is not the best solution; rather, encouraging cessation from all tobacco and nicotine products is the safest approach. Here are some important reasons why:
Health concerns regarding effects of e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes are not an approved cessation product used to quit smoking
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a variety of smoking cessation products and determined that they are safe and effective. These include certain prescription medicines as well as over-the-counter (OTC) nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as skin patches, lozenges and gum. E-cigarettes have not been approved by the FDA for smoking cessation. Although e-cigarettes have been examined by researchers as potential aids for cigarette smoking cessation, and have been promoted in this way by their manufacturers, the research evidence on their effectiveness in helping people quit is not strong. In fact, several studies have shown that people who use e-cigarettes may actually be less likely to quit smoking.
E-cigarettes may be safer than cigarettes, but they are not safe
Because they are not regulated or tested by the federal government, they can contain chemicals that pose a danger to the user’s health. Vapor from e-cigarettes has been found, on occasion, to contain various toxic chemicals, heavy metals and ultrafine particles, all of which pose a risk to an individual’s health. Although e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, the common perception that these devices are safe is false – they do pose a risk to your health.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine just like regular cigarettes
Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical. The younger you are when you try it, the more likely you are to become addicted, because adolescents’ brains are not fully developed until they reach their mid-20’s. This makes them more vulnerable to addiction than adults. Nicotine can also disrupt brain development, interfering with long-term cognitive functioning (decreasing attention and increasing impulsivity). It can also increase the risk of developing addiction to other drugs and various mental and physical health problems later in life. The bottom line? Nicotine is a highly potent and addictive substance that is especially bad for the developing teen brain, regardless of the form it comes in – in an e-cigarette or traditional cigarette.
Some teens use nicotine vaping devices to smoke marijuana or hash oil and not just nicotine liquids
The vaporized marijuana smoke has little smell, which makes it hard to detect whether the user is inhaling nicotine or other drugs.
Research suggests they may contribute to negative health consequences including:
- Harmful effects of e-cigarettes on the nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems
- Cancerous tumor development
- Poor reproductive health outcomes, like preterm deliveries and stillbirths
- Adverse effects on brain and lung development if exposure occurs during fetal development or adolescence
Although more research is needed to measure the risks associated with e-cigarette use, and their harm relative to regular cigarettes, enough data has been generated to show that they pose some risk of harm, especially for youth.
To help your child quit smoking, we would instead recommend talking with his or her doctor about smoking cessation interventions, including counseling or FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies and medications that are safe and effective for teens. For more information about helping your teen quit smoking, see the National Cancer Institute’s informative and teen-friendly website: http://teen.smokefree.gov/.
Linda Richter, Ph.D., is the director of policy research and analysis for The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.