The electronic cigarette, as we know it today, was invented in 2003 by Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist and smoker who was looking for a cleaner, safer way to inhale nicotine. After being introduced to the Chinese market in 2004, e-cigarettes made their way to Europe in 2006 and America in 2007.
Today it’s estimated that 35 million people around the world use electronic cigarettes, which go by many names, including e-cigs, e-hookahs, vapes, vape pens, mods, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Along with its rapid growth, the e-cigarette has generated tremendous debate over whether it’s actually a safe alternative to cigarettes.
Initially, e-cigarettes were marketed as a safe option for those wanting to quit smoked tobacco. However, a number of institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have voiced safety concerns and issued strong warnings against their use. Some countries, including Brazil, Lebanon, and Vietnam, have banned e-cigarettes, while others, like the United Kingdom, champion them as an important resource in their anti-tobacco efforts.
The ongoing debate has generated a significant amount of misinformation. Here are some of the most common myths regarding e-cigarettes:
Myth: E-cigarettes are FDA approved.
Fact: According to the FDA, all e-cigarettes and other ENDS products became subject to the FDA’s tobacco authorities and the FD&C Act on August 8, 2016. However, to date, the agency has deferred enforcement of its premarket authorization requirements. Therefore, no ENDS products on the market have been authorized by the FDA.
The FDA did recently announce its intention to prioritize its enforcement of ENDS products by focusing on flavored, cartridge-based products; products targeted to minors; and products being sold by manufacturers that have failed to take measures to prevent access to minors.
In addition, the FDA points out that it doesn’t issue approval of any tobacco products or deem them safe. When the FDA authorizes a company to legally sell or distribute a new tobacco product, it only means that the manufacturer has complied with the requirements under the law to bring its product to market.
Myth: The aerosol created by an e-cigarette is harmless.
Fact: Research has debunked this myth, identifying harmful substances in e-cigarettes, including nicotine, ultrafine particles, and heavy metals like nickel and tin. According to the American Lung Association, e-cigarettes also produce, when heated, a number of dangerous chemicals, including acetaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde that can cause lung disease, as well as cardiovascular disease.
Myth: Replacing my smoked tobacco use with the e-cigarette is healthier than using just smoked tobacco products.
Fact: According to the CDC, e-cigarettes may be potentially beneficial if adults, who are not pregnant, use them as a complete substitute to other smoked tobacco products. However, the safety and concentration of nicotine is cause for concern.
The WHO warns that the types and amounts of chemicals used in e-cigarettes are not standardized and can vary greatly; therefore, each variation needs to be researched before understanding vaping’s harmfulness compared to smoking. The WHO also points out that the large majority of e-cigarette users continue to smoke; therefore, the health risks of dual use of traditional smoking and vaping must be researched as well.
Myth: E-cigarettes will protect youth and young people from using cigarettes.
Fact: Some studies actually show that non-smoking youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try conventional cigarettes in the future. E-cigarettes also have negative implications for youth and young adults, such as an impact on brain development, respiratory health, and potential addiction.
In response, countries like China and the U.S. have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors over health and safety concerns.
Myth: Quitting vaping is easier than quitting cigarettes.
Fact: Actually, vaping can deliver a higher dose of nicotine at a faster rate, making the nicotine in e-cigarettes potentially more addictive than traditional cigarettes. Individuals who try to quit vaping may experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those associated with quitting smoking. Some employers, especially those with a young workforce, are supporting employees who want to quit vaping by providing free, confidential access to tobacco cessation coaches.
The bottom line—there isn’t any evidence that e-cigarettes are safe. While they may be safer than smoked tobacco, that still doesn’t make them safe. Individuals who do not smoke or vape should not start. Rather than switching to vaping, individuals who smoke conventional tobacco products and are trying to quit should consider supportive nicotine replacement medications instead and the support of a trained coach.
Disclaimer: This article is meant for information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. You should consult your health care providers if you have questions about vaping and its impact on your health.