Learn About E-Cigarettes

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Michael White, professor and department head from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, talks about electronic cigarettes.

Below are some questions about electronic cigarettes with answers provided by White.

What is the difference between the e-cigarettes and regular ones that makes them appear better for smokers?

With regular cigarettes, users burn tobacco and breathe the smoke into their lungs. Cigarette smoking increases the risks of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. An electronic cigarette has nicotine in a cartridge with propylene glycol or glycerol to liquefy it and sometimes has a flavoring. When the person breathes in, like they would from a cigarette, the electronic cigarette heats up the liquid nicotine, turns it into a vapor, and the person breathes it in. The difference between an electronic cigarette and nicotine gum or patches is that is feels like a real cigarette in your hand, the nicotine rushes into your system much faster than with gums or patches like a real cigarette, and the person can blow out the vapor like with a real cigarette.

Is it safer than a regular cigarette?

It has the potential to be much safer than a regular cigarette since it doesn’t have the tar, particles, toxins and carcinogens that cigarettes have. However, there is not convincing data to show that inhaling vaporized nicotine into your lungs is safe over the long term. We know a study published in 2006 in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who chewed nicotine gum during pregnancy had a higher risk of birth defects compared to other nonsmokers. So nicotine is not only highly addictive, it can be harmful by itself. Second, there is no regulation about what additives can be put inside of them. That means that some electronic cigarettes may be much safer than others with some electronic cigarettes being shown to produce vapor with detectable levels of irritants, toxins, and carcinogens.

So it may be a safer alternative in adults that currently smoke, how about use in children?

Unlike cigarettes, people can use electronic cigarettes indoors, they can be sold to children and they are relatively inexpensive. They can also be marketed in ways that appeal to children through the flavorings they include. So the potential to hook an entirely new generation on nicotine is there and the data proves it. Data from the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 1.78 million students having used electronic cigarettes, the use doubled over a one year period and 160,000 students using electronic cigarettes had never used conventional cigarettes.

What is happening in Connecticut?

In October there was legislation proposed to treat electronic cigarettes like real cigarettes which means that electronic cigarette users couldn’t light up indoors and sales to minors would be prohibited. That first part may be overkill and relegate many people trying to do something safer than traditional smoking to feel unnecessarily ostracized from society. However, the CDC and FDA say “Given the rapid increase in use and youths’ susceptibility to social and environmental influences to use tobacco, developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales, and use of e-cigarettes among youths is critical.” That might be a great common sense step to consider in Connecticut.

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