Being Well

How Dangerous Are E-Cigarettes? The Truth May Surprise You

Vaping, while trendy, is not a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. Find out the answer to how dangerous are e-cigarettes.

People who smoke cigarettes are often looking for ways to quit or cut down on their habit. After all, the dangers of smoking and tobacco use are well-known; smoking cigarettes is not only unhealthy, but it’s also expensive and becoming more and more inconvenient. For some smokers looking for an alternative to their tobacco habit, e-cigarettes pose a healthier option—or do they? Just how dangerous are e-cigarettes, and are they a viable option for smokers looking to curb their habit? The answers might surprise you.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes first made their debut in America around 2006, according to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, emerging as a disposable alternative to regular tobacco cigarettes. Throughout the last decade, the e-cigarette business has evolved and grown. E-cigarettes are now rechargeable and are called “mods” that allow users to inhale more vapor. Varieties of e-cigarettes and flavored liquids, or juices, are available for purchase online and from vaping businesses. Similar to cigarettes, users must be at least 18 years old to purchase the supplies. Unfortunately, lax online sales policies are easy to manipulate, giving younger teens access to the e-cigarettes and vapors.

What Are the Health Risks?

“E-cigarettes are often seen by teens and other users as a less harmful way to make a risky choice,” says Connie Clark, the tobacco treatment specialist at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. “However, those that do smoke traditional cigarettes tend to return to their original habit and end up smoking twice as much, according to research.”

E-cigarettes are an unregulated business; there is no way to know what substances are in the juice if the claims on the label are honest, as research suggests. For example, some e-cigarettes claim to have 0 percent nicotine, but have been tested to show two times the amount of nicotine as a regular cigarette. There are other chemicals in the vapor that have been proven dangerous to inhale.

“Kids are starting the e-cigarette habit early,” says Clark. “Vaping is the number one tobacco product being used by teens right now, and we can’t be sure of the immediate and long-term side effects.” With thousands of flavors and mixes, teens and other e-cigarette users are subject to an even more serious catalyst to the nicotine addiction: sugar. “The body becomes addicted to nicotine even quicker when sugar is mixed with the nicotine,” says Clark. The quick addiction process, as well as the convenience of vaping that allows you to smoke more and easier than traditional cigarettes, makes vaping an especially dangerous habit.

Second-Hand Smoke Raises Questions, Too

As for second-hand smoke, the results are unknown. “Without proper regulation, and without knowing what exactly is in these vapors, research can’t accurately give us a picture of what is happening to the person vaping or to the people around them,” says Clark. E-cigarettes may claim to be all water vapor and no nicotine, but without regulation to assure it, users are still choosing a risky behavior.

So, just how dangerous are e-cigarettes? While they are too new to have extensive research available, as the American Society of Clinical Oncology points out, they aren’t recommended for cancer patients who want to stop smoking. Increased chance of addiction, as well as not knowing what you’re inhaling, can be just as dangerous as typical tobacco use. Instead, choose to work with a smoking cessation expert who can give you the coping skills you need to succeed.

A good step towards cancer prevention and a healthier lifestyle is to stop smoking. UVA Cancer Center has various resources, including a tobacco cessation program, to help you during this process.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress