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Little-known Facts About E-cigarettes

Despite our growing knowledge that smoking tobacco is bad for us more than 8 million Australians have tried smoking at least once in their life and 3.1 million are currently cigarette smokers. Smoking cigarettes is known to cause damage to every organ in your body, and smoking-related illnesses are responsible for 14,900 deaths in Australia [source: Better Health AU]. But nearly 70 percent of smokers report they want to quit, and a little more than 42 percent say they’ve tried to quit during the past year. In 2013 there was a 10 percent decrease in cigarette sales in the Australia and while that directly followed an increase in the cigarette tax, it’s not only price that’s changing the habits of Australian smokers. Electronic cigarettes (known also as e-cigarettes) have also contributed. Global sales of smokeless tobacco products, including smokeless inhalers, has grown to nearly $3 billion — and continues to grow. In an attempt to quit the tobacco habit as many as one-fifth of smokers have tried e-cigarettes [source: Ross].

Where did e-cigarettes come from?

E-cigarettes were first developed in China and were introduced to the Australian market in 2009. Many are similar enough in appearance to be mistaken for regular tobacco cigarettes. But one look inside and you’ll see the main difference: This is a tobacco-free product. E-cigs are actually vaporizers; instead of burning tobacco, the mechanism heats up a liquid. The liquid turns into vapor, which is then inhaled, or “vaped.” While some argue that vapor offers health advantages over traditional cigarette smoke, regulatory agencies and some health experts aren’t so sure that’s true. Before you consider taking up the e-cigarette habit, read on to get the facts.

How E-Cigarettes Work

They look like the real thing. The end glows as you inhale. As you exhale, you puff out a cloud of what looks like smoke. It’s vapor, similar to the fog you might see at rock shows, says M. Brad Drummond, MD. He’s an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

All e-cigarettes work basically the same way. Inside, there’s a battery, a heating element, and a cartridge that holds nicotine and other liquids and flavorings. Features and costs vary. Some are disposable. Others have a rechargeable battery and refillable cartridges. Using an e-cigarette is called “vaping.”

Are They Safe?

The nicotine inside the cartridges is addictive. When you stop using it, you can get withdrawal symptoms including feeling irritable, depressed, restless and anxious. It can be dangerous for people with heart problems. It may also harm your arteries over time.

So far, evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may be safer than regular cigarettes. The biggest danger from tobacco is the smoke, and e-cigarettes don’t burn. Tests show the levels of dangerous chemicals they give off are a fraction of what you’d get from a real cigarette. But what’s in them can vary.

“E-cigarettes may be less harmful than cigarettes,” Drummond says. “But we still don’t know enough about their long-term risks or the effects of secondhand exposure.”

Pro and Con

E-cigarettes have triggered a fierce debate among health experts who share the same goal — reducing the disease and death caused by tobacco. But they disagree about whether e-cigarettes make the problem better or worse.

Opponents say that because nicotine is addictive, e-cigarettes could be a “gateway drug,” leading nonsmokers and kids to use tobacco. They also worry that manufacturers — with huge advertising budgets and celebrity endorsements — could make smoking popular again. That would roll back decades of progress in getting people to quit or never start smoking.

Others look at possible benefits for smokers. “Obviously, it would be best if smokers could quit completely,” says Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “But if that’s not possible, I think they’d be a lot better off with e-cigarettes. They’re a safer alternative.”

Siegel compares replacing tobacco with e-cigarettes to heroin users switching to the painkiller methadone. The replacement may have its own risks, but it’s safer.

Some supporters believe that e-cigarettes could help people quit, just like nicotine gum. Research hasn’t shown that yet, though.

 

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