What Consumers Need to Know About Electronic Cigarettes

Source: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

According to the Economist, the U.S. electronic cigarette market is booming, with sales numbering between $300 to $500 million in 2012. While this statistic pales in comparison to the $80 billion market for conventional cigarettes, a drastic upward trend in electronic cigarette sales has been observed since the product’s introduction just several years ago. Sales are projected to continue rising in the coming years.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which has not yet granted these products its approval due to ongoing testing — observes that electronic cigarettes are designed “to deliver nicotine or other substances to a user in the form of a vapor.” In other words, electronic cigarettes dilute the potency of the nicotine product.

The devices are typically rechargeable and battery powered. Each consists of a heating element, a cartridge containing nicotine or other chemicals, and an atomizer that converts the cartridge contents into vapor. Smokers of conventional cigarettes typically use electronic cigarettes to control or cease their nicotine habit by limiting the intake of the toxin.

Since its relatively recent introduction to the market, electronic cigarettes remain under investigation among experts in the fields of health and science. The benefits and risks of such devices are currently being weighed by the Food and Drug Administration, along with other leading authorities in the public and private sectors.

It is hard to say what influence, precisely, electronic cigarettes hold in guaranteeing the success of a smoker’s cessation. However, a significant amount of observational data has been recorded on the matter.

According to The Huffington Post, “In May, a large study out of England that was published in the journal Addiction made worldwide news when they announced that smokers trying to quit were 60 percent more likely to succeed if they used electronic cigarettes than over-the-counter therapies such as nicotine patches or gum.”

Source: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Due to the scale and methodology of this study, The New York Times calls the results “encouraging, but not definitive.”

American Cancer Society researcher Thomas J. Glynn acknowledges that electronic cigarettes have proven beneficial to many smokers in kicking the habit. Glynn, among others, maintains that the devices are useful — but by no means revolutionary. Despite anecdotal tales of success, electronic cigarette skepticism is abound — for varying reasons.

A prime source of controversy regarding electronic cigarettes is its apparent “gateway substance” appeal to minors. This is a particularly troubling concept when taking into consideration that approximately 90 percent of smokers take up the life-threatening habit in their teenage years. The Center for Disease Control reports that, “The percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.”

Center for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden, M.D. M.P.H., has expressed concern, noting that, “The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling … Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”

The same CDC study also concluded — troublingly — that 76.3 percent of middle and high school students who used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days also smoked conventional cigarettes in the same period .This unsettling figure — and others like it — suggest that the FDA will likely develop strategies to prevent marketing to this vulnerable demographic.

Electronic cigarettes present a diluted alternative to the conventional means of nicotine intake, but the jury is still out as to whether the benefits of these devices outweigh the inherent risks.

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