It’s been years since people could smoke in restaurants but if you are dining out one day and see a plume of smoke rise from a table nearby, it may be an e-cigarette. Not yet banned from indoor use, e-cigarettes are increasingly popular as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes.
The scientific facts on e-cigarettes are still developing, but what is known is that the electronic devices, which coax vapor from liquid cartridges to simulate smoking tobacco, can be equally bad for your health.
“It’s important to know that e-cigarettes may be tobacco-free, but they still contain liquid nicotine which is extracted from tobacco leaves, and they are not an overall solution to quitting cigarettes,” explains Marcelo DaSilva, MD, chief of Thoracic Surgery at Care New England. “Liquid nicotine, unlike tobacco leaves, is dangerous when inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. Just a small dose can kill a child or adult.”
Because they are unregulated, the amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes varies but some contain the same amount as a tobacco cigarette. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found some cartridges of liquid nicotine that contained a toxic chemical found in antifreeze; others release metals like tin when inhaled.
Any amount of nicotine, Dr. DaSilva notes, can be dangerous, leading to:
- Diminished lung function.
- Airway resistance.
- Cellular changes.
Dr. DaSilva urges people to avoid the lure of e-cigarettes, offering the following tips:
- If you don’t smoke, don’t start using e-cigarettes.
- If you smoke tobacco cigarettes and are trying to quit, try a FDA-approved option like nicotine patches or gum.
- If you don’t want to kick your habit, try talking to your primary care physician to see if e-cigarettes might be a healthier option.