E-cigarettes: What do we know?

July 5 marks the fourth anniversary of Wisconsin’s Smoke Free Air Law. The implementation of this law was an effective tobacco control strategy and has proven to be an effective policy change. We have made steady progress in reducing the prevalence of smoking in both adults and youth.

A new product, which may hamper this healthy progress, is the electronic cigarette or e-cigs. They are promoted as a substitute for smoking tobacco and are marketed as nicotine delivery devices that provide the satisfaction of smoking, but none of the harmful health effects. Before you jump on the e-cigarette bandwagon, consider these facts about the devices.

How they work

Most consist of a rechargeable battery, a replaceable cartridge that contains nicotine or other chemicals, and a heating element that converts the liquid in the cartridge into a vapor. This vapor is inhaled in a similar fashion as tobacco cigarettes and even produces a vapor cloud.

The ingredient list

Most companies advertise that the ingredients in the cartridge liquid include nicotine, a short list of filler chemicals and flavorings. But the truth is that we cannot say for certain that this ingredient list is an accurate description of any or all of the different products out there. E-cigarettes are not regulated. This means that companies are not required to share full ingredient lists. Furthermore, all electronic cigarettes cannot be considered equal. They all contain different amounts of unknown chemicals.

Do they help you quit?

The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes as a quitting device. No studies clearly show that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking. Until there is more research and regulation on these products, consider using other doctor recommended ways to quit smoking.

Other safety concerns

One danger of having e-cigarettes in the house is that the refill containers are not childproof. Children and pets can become seriously ill if they drink or touch e-cigarette fluid. Poison control warns even a small amount of concentrated nicotine could cause seizures, heart problems, even death. Last year the first child death due to ingestion of an e-cigarette refill was reported.

Another concern is the safety of the batteries in these devices. There have been reports of e-cigarettes overheating and exploding. Fires have also been started when users leave the cigarette in the charger for too long. Unlike other battery-operated equipment, such as cellphones, not all e-cigarettes have an inbuilt default setting to switch off once the battery is full.

Electronic cigarettes are still far from being the healthy and safe products they are marketed to be. There is still a lot to be learned about long-term health effects and usefulness as a tool to quit smoking.

More facts about e-cigarettes are available online at the American Lung Association (www.lung.org) and Centers for Disease and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) websites. For more information about Healthy Sheboygan County2020, go to www.healthysheboygancounty.org.

—Submitted by Elissa Halla and Elizabeth Abler, RN. Halla is an AHEC student intern at Sheboygan County Division of Public Health and Abler is a Sheboygan County Public Health nurse and HSC 2020 AODA Member.