Can We Really Trust E-Cigarettes? The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Electronic cigarette

Are e-cigarettes really as safe as they appear?

While a good chunk of my friends started smoking in high school, I was a late bloomer and didn’t pick up my first cigarette until my mid-twenties. It wasn’t so much the smoking itself I enjoyed, but the ritual of smoking: During this uber-stressful period of my life, there was nothing better than “going out for a smoke” and enjoying five minutes of stillness I wouldn’t have taken for myself otherwise.

After trying to quit what felt like 4,532 times, I finally succeeded two years ago with the patch. My sister is now quitting through the use of e-cigarettes (quite successfully I might add, and I couldn’t be prouder). Called “vaping,” you suck on the mouthpiece exactly as you would a cigarette. A tiny battery ignites to heat a liquid solution until it becomes vapor, which you then inhale. E-cigarettes are available in ready-to-use disposables, rechargeables, and refillables.

But with all of the controversy surrounding e-cigarettes, can we really trust them? Or are you really just trading one evil in for another?

The Good
“The pros outweigh the cons 99-1,” says David Goerlitz, anti-tobacco activist and spokesman for American Heritage International. “There are so many benefits to the e-cig it almost becomes silly to compare.” There are only about five ingredients in them, compared to the 4,600 toxins in cigarettes. According to Goerlitz, there’s been more success for people quitting with e-cigarettes than any other nicotine replacement product.

Not only are they cheaper in the long run, they help promote the non-use of traditionally harmful tobacco. “It’s not the nicotine that harms a lot of smokers, it’s the ‘smoke,’” says Goerlitz.

The Bad
The biggest problem with e-cigarettes is ingredient inconsistency between brands, and the lack of regulation is causing quite a stir. There’s also little data on whether e-cigarettes “work” as a smoking cessation device, but there’s little data to prove they don’t, either. The data itself tends to be flawed, such as the study’s too small or isn’t randomized or controlled. Without concrete data to backup claims, it’s impossible to properly regulate them.

Now that the devices have become more popular, there has been an uptick in complaints – from nicotine toxicity to cardiovascular problems – but let’s face it: Too much of anything can be harmful. “The press is saying e-cig poisonings are an epidemic, which isn’t true,” says Gorleitz. “In Ohio there was news of 60 poisonings called in on e-cig liquids,’ while failing to mention the 90,000 calls in the same year caused by other household and personal products.”

There’s also a huge concern that they’ll become a “gateway drug” for youth to start smoking real cigarettes, according to a recent study.

The Ugly
Well… they’re called e-cigarettes. “Calling it an e-cigarette gives fuel to the fire to those that think smoking is a dirty rotten filthy habit and should be stopped,” says Goerlitz. “For the majority of citizens, non-smokers look down on tobacco users as out of control, and the Anti-Tobacco Control Movement makes them feel like lepers and second class citizens.” (As someone who’s been on both sides of the coin, it’s very true.)

If they were called something else upon their arrival, maybe there wouldn’t be such a stigma attached to them. But, as Goerlitz points out, you can’t unring a bell or put toothpaste back in the tube.

With other cessation tools like medication, the patch or gum, they don’t just rid you of the nicotine withdrawal, but the habit of smoking. For me, e-cigarettes would’ve just made me want to smoke more – they don’t completely fulfill my craving and would leave me foaming at the mouth.

I’ve always wondered: Sure, you’re now off cigarettes, but what do you do to get off e-cigarettes? Our habits cut deep. But then, there’s my sister: The one person in our family we thought would never quit (she’s been a smoker my entire life) has been smoke-free now for almost a year – thanks to e-cigarettes.

Do your due diligence to find the brand you’d be happiest with. It comes down to personal awareness: Knowing yourself well enough to decide what it will take for you to break the habit for good – in your own time, and on your own terms.

How do you feel about e-cigarettes? Yay or nay?

Related on EcoSalon

Electronic Cigarettes Under Fire: Hidden Risk or Effective Cure?

Protecting Yourself From the 20 Percent of People That Still Smoke

What’s Behind the Surprise Global Spike in Female Smoking?

Image: Lindsay Fox

Krissy Brady

Krissy Brady is a women’s health + lifestyle writer who’s so out of shape, it’s like she has the innards of an 80-year-old. Instead of learning how to crochet, she decided to turn her emotional baggage into a writing career (genius, no?). You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (you know, if you want).