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Are E-Cigs a Healthy Swap for Cigarettes After All?

Are E-Cigs a Healthy Swap for Cigarettes After All?

Trading tobacco for e-cigarettes could mean fewer cancer-causing chemicals, study finds.

A February 2017 study could shift the long-standing debate about whether e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes. Long-term e-cig users were found to have lower blood levels of certain cancer-causing compounds, called carcinogens, than cigarette smokers, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Why health experts have been skeptical of e-cigs  
E-cigs heat and vaporize liquids for users to inhale. The liquids typically contain nicotine, flavor enhancers, color dyes and chemicals, some of which form known carcinogens when vaporized. Since the exact amount of each ingredient can be unpredictable, and may vary between brands, experts warn using them could be risky. Prior to August 2016, e-cigs didn’t require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval either, making it difficult draw conclusions about their safety.

However, many users have defended e-cigs as a safe and effective tool for tapering off of cigarettes: E-cigs come in a variety of attractive color and flavor options, they contain zero tobacco and fewer chemicals than cigarettes, and they allow users to decrease their nicotine intake at their own pace.

How this study could change the conversation
This is the first research that includes long-term e-cigarette and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) users. Most studies to date haven't reflected the habits of real users or have only included short-term e-cig users.

Researchers measured blood levels of nicotine, carcinogens and toxins among the following groups:

  • Cigarette smokers
  • Former smokers who now use e-cigs only
  • Former smokers who now use NRT only, like the nicotine patch or gum
  • Long-term users of both cigarettes and e-cigs
  • Long-term users of both cigarettes and NRT

They found that regardless of whether smokers switched to e-cigs or NRT, they wound up with similar blood levels of nicotine. This means that e-cig users are probably not inhaling toxic levels of nicotine.

Additionally, both the e-cig and NRT-only groups had lower levels of carcinogens and toxins compared with the other three groups. Based on that, researchers concluded that substituting cigarettes with e-cigs may help lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and lung diseases.

But the study authors gave one important warning: Those who used cigarettes and e-cigs at the same time did not reduce their levels of cancer-causing compounds or toxins. Therefore, they recommend sticking to e-cigs or NRT only when trying to quit.

To make your quit smoking plan, visit Sharecare’s Quit Smoking page

This content was published on February 6, 2017. 

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