Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of more than 400,000 deaths every year. The electronic cigarette, a new way to ingest nicotine, is billed as a safe alternative by the companies that sell them. There are more than 250 brands of e-cigarettes now on the market. However, e-cigarettes are anything but safe. Let’s clear the air on these products.

What is an electronic cigarette?

Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine through a battery-operated device. The nicotine is delivered through e-juice that is heated. The vapor that is released is ingested to deliver the nicotine.

Are e-cigarettes safe?

E-cigarettes contain questionable chemical irritants. In fact, researchers have identified 31 chemical compounds in e-cigarettes that are considered harmful to humans. We don’t yet know how long-term inhalation of e-cigarettes affects human health, but we do know that electronic cigarettes are far from harmless.

Here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • E-cigarettes contain potentially toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde and
  • Toxic gases are released during the vaping and inhaled into the lungs.
  • Users risk exposure to high levels of toxic nicotine e-juice when refilling the cartridges.
  • E-cigarettes contain food-grade solvents (vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol). Though these are considered safe, they are inhaled into the lungs rather than ingested in the stomach where they are metabolized. These solvents are heated at high temperatures and break down to form toxic compounds. During vaping, they leave a residue called “coil gunk” on the heating element that serves as a source of additional toxicity. The new toxic compounds produced by the thermal decomposition are propylene oxide and glycidol and are considered carcinogenic.

Do e-cigarettes help you quit smoking?

Some people claim that e-cigarette devices helped them cut down or quit smoking. This may be true for some. Other smokers have reverted to traditional tobacco even with e-cigarette usage. It is important to weigh the risks and benefits, especially given the influence of such products upon impressionable teens.

A 2015 study indicated that students who use e-cigarettes by the ninth grade are more likely to start smoking cigarettes and use other tobacco products within the next year. The FDA has new rules in place: purchasing these items in retail or online settings is prohibited to anyone less than 18 years of age.

There was a time when smoking cigarettes was promoted as glamorous and it seems history may be repeating itself with the electronic nicotine delivery systems. There is so much more to learn about these products.

Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.


NIH. May 2016. www.drugabuse.gov

Science News for Students. “E-cigs create toxic vapors from harmless e-liquids. July 2016.

“All E-cigarettes emit harmful chemicals, but some emit more than others” July 2016.

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