Learn about 3 non-prescription methods to get rid of your smoking habit.
Can nicotine gum, micro tablets or lozenges help you to quit smoking?
Electronic cigarettes are a fairly recent invention marketed as alternatives to smoking or quitting aids like gum or patches. Learn more.
Marketed as the latest aid to quitting smoking, e-cigarettes claim to offer all the benefits and none of the harmful side effects of smoking. So, are e-cigarettes safe?
Traditional cigarettes may look like pretty simple products, after all they’re just dried tobacco leaves wrapped in paper. But, when you light up a cigarette it releases around 4000 chemicals including around 80 that are carcinogenic, or known to cause cancer.
These chemicals include things like; tar; arsenic, used in wood preservatives; benzene, an industrial solvent; and polonium-210, a highly radioactive element.
Arsenic is one of the most dangerous chemicals in cigarettes. It can cause cancer as well as damaging the heart and its blood vessels.
Small amounts of arsenic can accumulate in smokers’ bodies and build up to higher concentrations over months and years. As well as any direct effects, it can worsen the effect of other chemicals by interfering with our ability to repair our DNA.
Benzene is a solvent used to manufacture other chemicals, including petrol. It is well-established that benzene can cause cancer, particularly leukaemia. It could account for between a tenth and a half of the deaths from leukaemia caused by smoking.
Tobacco smoke contains large amounts of benzene and accounts for a big proportion of our exposure to this poison. The average smoker inhales about ten times more benzene than the average non-smoker.
Polonium is a rare, radioactive element and polonium-210 is its most common form. Polonium strongly emits a very damaging type of radiation called alpha-radiation that can usually be blocked by thin layers of skin. But tobacco smoke contains traces of polonium, which become deposited inside their airways and deliver radiation directly to surrounding cells.
The lungs of smokers can be exposed to four times more polonium than those of non-smokers and specific parts may get a hundred times more radiation. One study estimated that someone smoking one and half packs a day receives the equivalent amount of radiation as someone having 300 chest X-rays a year.
Traditional cigarettes are packed full of chemicals that are bad for your health. All evidence and research on smoking reaches the same conclusion. But, are e-cigarettes any better than traditional cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are made up of three components; a power source, a heating element and a reservoir of nicotine liquid. The heating element is activated when the user tries to inhale. The heating element vaporises the nicotine solution into an aerosol mist that can be inhaled. This works in the same way that a smoker would inhale smoke from a cigarette but as E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco or paper there is no smoke produced and thus no smoke is inhaled in the process. The user just inhales vapour.
The nicotine liquid in the reservoir of an e-cigarette is primarily constituted from propylene glycol (PG), a non-toxic compound that has numerous applications in a wide-range of common products including edibles. Whilst content varies across different brands, most contain a combination of PG, water and nicotine.
Inhaling vapour made by e-cigarettes exposes the user to water vapour, nicotine and PG, none of which are harmful or toxic.
So, are e-cigarettes safe? As e-cigarettes are a relatively new addition, there is no conclusive long-term research into their effects on health. Current thinking indicates that whilst e-cigarettes are by no means regarded as risk-free they present a significantly lower risk to health than normal cigarettes.
Opinion amongst healthcare professionals is that whilst e-cigarettes are preferable to smoking, it’s best to avoid both if at all possible.
Smoking and cancer: What’s in a cigarette?? [online] Available at:< http://infocancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/smokingandtobacco/whatsinanaecigarette/smoking-and-cancer-whats-in-a-cigarette > [Accessed 19 April 2012].
Wikipedia, [online] Available at: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_cigarette > [Accessed 18 April 2012].
Ten Little-Known Facts About E-cigarettes [online] Available at: <http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/smoking-cessation/10-facts-about-e-cigarettes.htm >[Accessed 18 April 2012].
10730 Revised November 2012comments powered by Disqus