E-cigarettes: Safer, but concerns mount as teen use rises

September 2, 2014

While a recent study has found that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) pose less of a health risk than conventional cigarettes, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a ban on indoor use and stronger regulation.

While a recent study has found that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) pose less of a health risk than conventional cigarettes, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a ban on indoor use and stronger regulation, citing nicotine as a danger.

The WHO is also calling for restrictions on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, noting that teens are increasingly targeted and that teen use is on the rise.

It echoes concerns expressed August 25 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which said its study found that youths who reported exposure to tobacco ads had higher rates of intention to smoke than those who weren’t exposed to such ads.

The CDC study results, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, found that 25% of youths who had never smoked a conventional cigarette had used an e-cigarette in 2013.

 “We are very concerned about nicotine use among our youth, regardless of whether it comes from conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or other tobacco products. Not only is nicotine highly addictive, it can harm adolescent brain development,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.

Related: E-Cigarette Slideshow

Noting that nicotine is highly addictive and that three of every four teen smokers go on to become adult smokers, the CDC said there is evidence that nicotine can have adverse effects on adolescent brain development.

According to the WHO, while nicotine is not a carcinogen, it can function as a “tumor promoter” and have adverse effects during pregnancy. It may also contribute to cardiovascular disease, and is involved in fundamental aspects of the biology of malignant diseases, as well as of neurodegeneration.

While the WHO and CDC focused on the dangers of nicotine, a recent study by the Journal of Environmental Science, Processes and Impacts analyzed the particles generated by e-cigarettes and normal cigarettes and quantified exposure to chemical agents and emission rates.

Results show that, while e-cigarettes contain almost no cancer-causing organic hydrocarbons, they do contain chromium, a metal not found in traditional cigarettes, and four times as much nickel as in conventional cigarettes.

Researchers noted that the source of the metals is likely the e-cigarette device or other indoor sources rather than the liquid. They recommend implementing quality controls on the manufacture of e-cigarettes to minimize the emission of metals from e-cigarette devices and improve their safety and associated health effects.

The study also found that e-cigarettes emitted almost no detectable polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to cause cancer, while normal cigarettes emitted 10 times that level. The study doesn’t take into account the health risks associated with nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco present in both conventional and e-cigarettes.

At least 13 states have enacted regulations prohibiting or restricting the use of e-cigarettes, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.

Related:

Should family physicians question younger patients on hookah, e-cigarettes use?