E-Cigarettes: Weighing the Pros and Cons | Center on Addiction



E-Cigarettes: Weighing the Pros and Cons

E-Cigarettes: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Published: September 2018

With new research and opinions on e-cigarettes and other vaping devices coming out all the time, it can be difficult to separate accurate information from biased interpretations of the data. There is a lot of money at stake for e-cigarette manufacturers and distributors and most major cigarette companies now own large shares of the industry. At the same time, many tobacco control and public health professionals may be motivated to advocate for a product that is less risky than smoked cigarettes—the leading, preventable cause of sickness and death in the U.S. 

Here’s what you need to know to make informed decisions:

The Pros:  

E-cigarettes and other vaping devices appear to pose fewer health risks than conventional, combustible cigarettes: 
  1. They appear to be a safer alternative for long-term cigarette smokers who have been unable to successfully quit smoking using recommended and approved cessation aids.
  2. They do not contain tobacco or as many of the other toxins and carcinogens that are the leading causes of lung disease and cancer in cigarette smokers. 
  3. They appear to be less risky to smokers who have mild to moderate cases of asthma.
  4. They may emit less toxic material in their aerosol (less second and third-hand particulate matter).

The Cons:  

Still, e-cigarettes and other vaping devices have health risks:
  1. They contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug that can lead to or perpetuate the use of other nicotine products, including cigarettes, as well as increase the risk of alcohol use, other drug use and addiction. 
  2. Their aerosol includes additives, heavy metals, ultrafine particles, and other toxic and carcinogenic ingredients that pose second and third-hand health risks.
  3. They contain nicotine, which has been linked to damage to the nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems; cancerous tumor development; preterm deliveries and stillbirths in pregnant women; and interference with healthy brain and lung development during fetal development, childhood and adolescence. 
  4. They include liquids that have led to unintentional poisoning in children.
  5. They do not reliably reduce cigarette smoking or lead to smoking cessation, and may make some smokers less likely to successfully quit smoking.   
  6. They frequently are used alongside conventional cigarettes, rather than in place of them, increasing the total exposure to nicotine and the risk of other substance use and addiction.
  7. They are relatively new products with limited long-term data on their health and safety effects and insufficient standards regulating their ingredients and design.  
  8. They increase the risk of burns and other accidents, including explosions from faulty or misused electric chargers.

Linda Richter, PhD

Director of Policy Research and Analysis

Dr. Richter oversees the policy-oriented research projects at the Center. 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.