Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes” were reportedly invented by a Chinese pharmacist who wanted to “find a safer way for smokers to inhale nicotine” after his father, a cigarette smoker, died from lung cancer. The e-cigarette is designed with a lithium battery attached to a heating element. This vaporizes a solution of either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine and liquid nicotine. Vaporization allows for inhalation, also referred to as “vaping” instead of “smoking.”
Smokers have access to these products. They are unlikely to be banned in the near future. There may in the future be an age restriction.
We have two questions to answer as health professionals:
1. Are e-cigarettes safe? Truly, we have no idea. There is no long-term safety data on the impact of repeated inhalation of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin on lung tissue. Some short-term data suggests that e-cigarettes may cause airway irritation.
2. Are e-cigarettes effective at helping stop smoking? There is a 2013 Lancet Journal study which compares e-cigarettes to nicotine patches to placebo pills. The research showed that there was not a statistically significant help with e-cigarettes compared to the other two options.
We, clinicials, do know that e-cigarettes are not clearly superior to FDA-approved medications for smoking cessation, e-cigarettes are not FDA approved for smoking cessation, short-term safety data suggests that e-cigarettes cause airway irritation and NO long-term safety data exists.
My advice is to quit smoking and do not start vaping e-cigarettes.