E-cigarettes seem to be everywhere these days, and many think of them as a useful tool for people looking to quit smoking and relatively risk-free for new users. But are they safe? Before you or someone you care about uses e-cigarettes to quit smoking or for other reasons, get the facts.
1. E-cigarettes and other vaping devices are NOT risk-free.
Although it’s generally agreed that these products are less harmful than smoked cigarettes, there is no evidence that they are, in fact, safe. Rather, a growing body of research indicates that they may lead to negative health consequences, including:
- Damage to the brain, heart and lungs
- Cancerous tumor development
- Preterm deliveries and stillbirths in pregnant women
- Harmful effects on brain and lung development, when use occurs during fetal development or adolescence
2. They contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug with known health risks.
Using nicotine, regardless of how it is delivered, increases the risk of addiction. Nicotine addiction is notoriously difficult to reverse, and use of e-cigarettes frequently leads to use of other nicotine products, including smoked cigarettes, as well as alcohol and other drugs.
3. Using e-cigarettes and other vaping products is not a proven method for quitting smoking.
E-cigarettes and other vaping devices would be a preferred alternative to traditional cigarettes when used exclusively as a replacement and only among smokers who have been unable to quit smoking using proven, medically approved methods. However, there is little evidence that they reliably reduce cigarette smoking or lead to smoking cessation. In fact, the nicotine contained in e-cigarettes and other vaping products may actually perpetuate addiction, in some cases making it even harder to quit smoking.
4. E-cigarettes and other vaping devices are not used exclusively by people trying to quit smoking.
Rather, they are increasingly popular with young people, including those who had never smoked cigarettes previously and never intended to. Research shows that some young people begin to smoke cigarettes only after using e-cigarettes.
5. E-cigarettes and other vaping devices are frequently used in addition to smoked cigarettes, rather than in place of them.
Many smokers use these products alongside traditional cigarettes, often at times and in places where smoking is not allowed or is not convenient. The end result is an increase in total exposure to nicotine and its harmful effects.
6. Nicotine can affect brain development and functioning in young people.
Young people are particularly vulnerable to using e-cigarettes and vaping devices and to their effects. The younger a person is when he or she tries nicotine, the greater the risk of addiction. The developing brain is more vulnerable to the effects of addictive substances than a fully developed adult brain. Additionally, nicotine can disrupt brain development, interfere with long-term cognitive functioning, and increase the risk of various mental and physical health problems later in life.
7. E-cigarettes and other vaping devices are not FDA approved.
These products are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a smoking cessation aid. Until very recently, manufacturers and distributors of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices were not bound by standards of safety set by the FDA for smoked tobacco products. Despite the new regulations, e-cigarette manufacturers are free to project a risk-free image in their marketing, and offer enticing, candy-like flavors that appeal to children, adolescents and young adults.
8. There is little consistency across different products.
There is limited federal oversight over e-cigarettes and other vaping devices making it difficult to assess the dangers of any specific product. Across products, there is considerable variation in the nature and concentration of the ingredients, including nicotine and other known toxins.
9. There is no evidence that the aerosol from these products is safe.
There is growing concern about the long-term health effects of aerosolizing nicotine and other chemicals in e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. The additives, heavy metals, ultrafine particles, and other ingredients they contain include toxins and carcinogens.
10. The spread of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices may be re-normalizing smoking behavior.
The increase in popularity of nicotine devices and their widespread availability is reversing the progress made over decades of intense global, national, and local efforts to reduce cigarette smoking, especially among young people.
What’s the bottom line?
If you're a long-term cigarette smoker and haven’t been able to cut back or stop smoking using approved cessation methods, e-cigarettes and other vaping devices products appear to be a safer alternative than continuing cigarette smoking, even if they do not help you reduce your nicotine intake. However, if you do not smoke or use other forms of tobacco or nicotine, steer clear of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. The potential risks to your long-term health outweigh any enjoyment in the moment.
Linda Richter, PhD
Director of Policy Research and Analysis
Dr. Richter oversees the policy-oriented research projects at Center on Addiction. Her work includes translating the science of nicotine, alcohol and other drug use and addiction for lay audiences and researching ways to improve addiction prevention, treatment and policy.