Electronic Cigarettes: Miracle or Health Hazard?

If you or someone you care about smokes, you probably already know how dangerous cigarettes are. Smokers face all kinds of risks, from various cancers to emphysema to increased risk of heart disease. Smokers often lament that nicotine replacement therapies on the market just don’t meet their needs. The nicotine patch might not fulfill a smoker’s hand-to-mouth impulse, or the nicotine gum might be an unpleasant flavor or harshness.

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In response, electronic cigarettes are exponentially gaining popularity. It’s becoming easier to find parts and products for a variety of electronic cigarettes, and it’s even easier to find people, “vapers,” who use them. Despite this, health experts are still divided on the safety of electronic cigarettes. Some have praised them as being not harmless, while others have protested that the devices are too new to accurately gauge for safety.

Nicotine itself is roughly as dangerous and addictive as caffeine. Although it’s certainly not harmless, nicotine doesn’t cause cancer. At low doses, like those found in cigarettes and e-cigarettes, nicotine is a stimulant and an anti-inflammatory. The real danger comes from the tar, smoke, and added chemicals. E-cigarettes work by heating a mixture of flavor and nicotine in a base made from vegetable glycerin or another carrier used commonly in asthma inhalers. As a result, the user doesn’t inhale the same poisons as they would if they were smoking a cigarette. However, they might be exposing themselves to other toxins from heated plastic or tainted “e-juice.”

When e-cigarettes debuted, their advocates used them everywhere. As health organizations battle over them, however, so have legislators. It is now illegal or forbidden to use e-cigarettes inside in many establishments. There has also been a shift from small, low-powered devices shaped and sized like cigarettes to larger batteries and mods with tanks and atomizers. Additionally, many former smokers are surprised to discover that they prefer fruity or dessert-like flavors instead of tobacco or menthol.

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Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. E-cigarettes are more effective than the patch or gum for quitting smoking, making them perhaps the most effective method of smoking cessation. In fact, some of the loudest protesters of electronic cigarettes, such as Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, may be opposing the devices due to lost profits.

The jury is still out on whether electronic cigarettes are safe or dangerous. Still, common sense says that vaping is probably safer than smoking. And if vaping helps smokers kick the burning plant matter even partially, that’s probably a good thing. And if the smoker can then get off the e-cigarettes, even better.

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