Possible Risks of E-Cigarettes Remain Unknown

Asthma and lung irritation could be caused by electronic alternative to cigarette smoking

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As cities continue to crack down on people lighting up cigarettes and public health efforts highlight the dangers of tobacco use, e-cigarettes are seen as a possible way to help people quit.

E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, use a heated element to vaporize a liquid containing nicotine. They often are billed as a tool to help people quit smoking, as the nicotine level can be gradually lowered.

But not so fast! According to a recent article, the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use are still not clear.

"Talk to a health care professional about the best ways to quit smoking."

Andrew Nickels, MD, of the Mayo Clinic Division of Allergy and Immunology, co-authored an article with colleagues Chitra Dinakar, MD, professor of pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital, and Avni Joshi, MD, of the Mayo Clinic's departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.

These researchers questioned the value of e-cigarettes in programs to help people quit smoking.

"Despite the apparent optimism surrounding e-cigarettes and their purported therapeutic role in smoking cessation,” Dr. Nickels said in a press statement, “there just simply is not enough evidence to suggest that consumers should use e-cigarettes for this purpose."

And because of the newness of e-cigarettes, the doctors noted a lack of scientific research on any long-term impacts to health.

Dr. Dinakar focused on the consequences, first- and secondhand, of both e-cigarette and traditional cigarette use.

"Dual use of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes carries the risk of secondhand smoke exposure, causing worsening respiratory effects on children and asthma sufferers,” Dr. Dinakar said. “It also promotes ongoing nicotine dependence."

Bottomline, the doctors found, inhaling smoke or vapor of any sort isn’t good for your lungs and can cause asthma attacks.

Asthma is a condition marked by chronic lung inflammation that narrows the airways, making breathing more difficult. The condition affects an estimated 25 million people in the United States.

Dr. Nickels and colleagues wrote that irritants like e-cigarette vapor could cause asthma attacks, which cause around 4,000 deaths each year.

Part of the solution, they wrote, is heightened oversight from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the tobacco industry, among others.

Based on FDA publications, e-cigarettes are not fully vetted, meaning consumers don’t know the potential risks, amount of nicotine being used or whether there are any benefits to use.

The work by Dr. Nickels and team appears in the June edition of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The co-authors did not identify any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 30, 2014
Last Updated:
May 31, 2014