Alternative Cigarettes: Health Pros and Cons?

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As laws against smoking traditional, tobacco-based cigarettes become more norm than exception and the cost of a tobacco habit continues to skyrocket. So, alternative cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are exploding in popularity. E-cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes – many even have ends that light up electronically – and deliver a dose of nicotine like real cigarettes. They are battery-operated, and there are currently no laws against smoking them in public places. They don’t produce the same toxic smoke that traditional cigarettes do, and alternative cigarette manufacturers are quick to tout their healthiness in comparison to traditional cigarettes, but how healthy are they, in truth?

Health Pros of Alternative Cigarettes

  • In the short term, most experts agree that alternative cigarettes are less detrimental to the user’s health than traditional cigarettes. Though they contain nicotine and the potentially dangerous chemical diethylene glycol, they still come out far ahead when compared to the toxic cocktail of chemicals in comparison to traditional cigarette smoke. This means less potential short-term cardiovascular health risks for alternative cigarette smokers, though it is important to note that the long term effects of alternative cigarette use have not been determined.
  • Many users claim that alternative cigarettes have helped them to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, acting as a type of nicotine replacement therapy similar to the nicotine patch or chewing gum. Though the FDA has not released the details of their own studies regarding the carcinogenic chemical content of alternative cigarettes, other independent studies have shown that they contain no more harmful carcinogens than other nicotine replacement therapies, and use the same variety of nicotine.
  • Alternative cigarettes do not generate the same type of second-hand smoke as traditional cigarettes, making them healthier for people surrounding the smoker. Again, however, due to the newness of alternative cigarettes, the true effect of their version of second-hand smoke has yet to be evaluated.

Health Cons of Alternative Cigarettes

  • The first large drawback is the relatively unknown nature of the long-term health issues related to alternative cigarettes. This shows up in the lack of proper labeling and regulation of alternative cigarettes. Since the FDA has not yet had time to truly evaluate the dangers of alternative cigarettes, manufacturers can claim that they are healthy without much chance of government push-back unless the claims are truly outlandish.
  • The previously mentioned chemical contained in alternative cigarettes, diethylene glycol, has been characterized by the FDA as an ingredient in antifreeze. Compared to the list of carcinogenic ingredients found in traditional cigarettes, the presence of one dangerous chemical in alternative cigarettes may seem a small issue, but just because they are “less unhealthy” does not mean that they are healthy.
  • No matter what clinical studies by the FDA ultimately reveal, the fact remains that nicotine is highly addictive no matter how it’s ingested. Beyond that, nobody really knows what the long-term effects are in relation to the inhalation of pure nicotine. The risks may turn out to be small, but they are still risks one should weigh thoughtfully before choosing to indulge in a highly addictive activity.

The bottom line is that there really isn’t enough vetted information available to make a strong determination on the health risks of alternative cigarettes. Many agree that they show potential as a bridge to smoking cessation, but the addiction risk of inhaling pure nicotine is very real, and nobody really knows what long-term dangers. Alternative cigarette manufacturers will continue to take advantage of that lack of information for now, but it’s important to remember that at one time, traditional cigarettes were considered to be healthy, too. It is always a good idea to consult with a doctor or someone with a public health degree online to make an informed decision.

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