What’s the deal with e-cigarettes?

by Lauren Verini

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have become quite popular recently–you can pretty much walk down the street and see someone smoking an e-cigarette or even in a bar or restaurant. Electronic cigarettes have been around since 2003 and there now approximately 4 million Americans are using these alternatives to tobacco cigarettes, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

There are a number of reasons why electronic cigarettes are popular. The first being that since they do not contain tobacco they can be smoked anywhere since they are not regulated under tobacco laws. People who are trying to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes also like to smoke e-cigarettes since they are strictly inhaling nicotine. In fact, a study done by the medical journal The Lancet showed that electronic cigarettes worked just as effectively as the nicotine patch at helping people to quit smoking. Also, since e-cigarettes are not regulated under the tobacco laws, they are starting to become heavily advertised and backed by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy.

With the growing popularity of these new e-cigarettes, people are starting to question exactly how they are affecting our health and the environment since we all know how terrible tobacco cigarettes are for us. The bad news is there is no FDA regulation on electronic cigarettes, which means we have no way of really knowing what exactly is in these electronic cigarettes. What we do know is that since electronic cigarettes use nicotine, users are not inhaling the 4,000+ chemicals found in tobacco like tar and carbon monoxide. An analysis by the FDA in 2009 however found carcinogens and toxic chemicals like diethlyeneglycol (an ingredient found in antifreeze!) in popular brands of electronic cigarettes. Until electronic cigarettes are FDA regulated, we will not have any definitive answers as to what exactly we are exposing our bodies to. Many authorities are pushing for this however, and just last week, 40 attorney generals sent a letter to the FDA asking them to regulate electronic cigarettes like they do for tobacco products.

As for the environment, regular tobacco cigarettes account for 38% of all U.S. road litter as well as 600 million trees that are cut down each year for cigarette production. Electronic cigarettes don’t create this same littering problem, but what happens to the empty cigarette cartridges when they are empty? The good news is that the battery can be recharged and the cartridge can be refilled. Once the cartridge can no longer be used however, it should be disposed of properly and treated as electronic waste. If you do smoke electronic cigarettes, some brands offer cartridge-recycling programs and accept all e-cigarette brands.

Our verdict on electronic cigarettes is that we still don’t know enough–and won’t know until there is long term scientific research completed and FDA regulation. While there may be some pros to using electronic cigarettes versus tobacco cigarettes, they should by no means be considered harmless. Your best bet is to stop smoking all together, or at least wait until there is more definitive information available as to what exactly electronic cigarettes contain and how they affect us all.

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