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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

E-cigarettes: Are they safe and do they work?

Rita Aman
Rita Aman, Medicine Hat Community Health Services

Many smokers wanting to kick their nicotine addiction have tried every product on the market—looking for something to make quitting smoking easy, painless and effortless. There are devices and therapies that promise this, but do they really work, what’s in them and are they safe? It’s best to do some research before trying any new product.


One of the newer products you’ve probably seen is the electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette. It’s a battery operated device that has cartridges filled with liquid chemicals. Heat from a battery powered atomizer turns the chemicals into a vapour that is inhaled by the user and is referred to as “vaping.” E-cigarettes look just like regular cigarettes, while other electronic smoking products look like cigars and pipes.

To date, e-cigarettes have not been tested for safety and there are no quality controls for making these. And because chemicals in cartridges vary, it’s hard to know what e-cigarette users and people nearby are breathing in. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found cancer-causing chemicals in some of the cartridges.

There are currently no standards or labeling requirements for e-cigarettes, making it hard to know exactly what’s in the liquid. Common contents include a mix of water and propylene glycol, a man-made product used in antifreeze and theatre fog. It’s unclear if vapourized propylene glycol or other chemicals in the cartridges are safe to inhale.

Given that e-cigarettes don’t seem to create the 7,000 chemicals found in cigarette smoke (69 of which are known to cause cancer), it’s likely safer than smoking a regular cigarette. But it doesn’t mean it’s safe to use. There is no evidence that using e-cigarettes helps people quit smoking. Most recent research is showing that e-cigarette use by smokers is not resulting in higher quit rates or reduced consumption. Health Canada, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization do not support e-cigarettes as a tobacco cessation aid.

The good news is that there are products that have been proven as safe and effective in helping tobacco users to reduce consumption or quit. These may not be easy, painless or effortless, but research shows that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can almost double quit rates and is most effective when combined with counseling therapy. Health Canada has approved stop-smoking medicine, including over-the-counter NRT in various forms, including patches, gum, lozenge, inhaler and mist.

AlbertaQuits.ca provides support and information to people interested in quitting smoking. Call or text 1-866-710-7848 (QUIT).

Rita Aman is a health promotion facilitator at Medicine Hat Community Health Services and can be reached at 403-502-8200 or Rita.Aman@albertahealthservices.ca.

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