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Are E-cigarettes Worse than Conventional Cigarettes?

A recent research paper from New York University suggests that electronic cigarettes can be more toxic than normal cigarettes.

Since their introduction in the United States in 2007, e-cigarettes have been marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco and aimed at people looking to quit their nicotine addiction. Their popularity has increased worldwide, especially among youngsters and people who have never tried traditional cigarettes.

“E-cigs use a heating device to vaporize nicotine,” explain the researchers from New York University, “and other ingredients which simulate the visual, sensory, and behavioral aspects of smoking without the combustion of tobacco. The main difference between e-cigs and conventional cigarettes is that e-cigs do not contain tobacco, although they do contain nicotine, which is harmful to the body and is associated with toxicity and addiction.”

Nicotine and other chemicals found in e-cigarettes are believed to be carcinogenic. The United States Food and Drug Administration and the American Lung Association have already cautioned that e-cigarette users are unknowingly inhaling vapourised chemicals. Reports of adverse side effects for e-cigarette consumption include disorientation, nausea, pneumonia, seizure and heart failure.

The New York University researchers also found that factors such as the frequency of puffing, depth and length of inhalation lead to the the absorption of higher concentrations of nicotine and other toxins than conventional tobacco smokers.

“Concerns about the regulation and quality of these devices” says journalist Chris Choi in a recent article, “can be traced all the way back to China, which is where the vast majority are made”. Even the British Medical Association is “unwilling to back the electronic smoking alternative until more is known about long term effects.”

Another issue is that of passive smoking: high quantities of nicotine emissions from electronic cigarettes can be inhaled by and thus harmful for non-smokers.

A representative of the World Health Organisation explains: “The science around the safety of e-cigarettes has not been demonstrated. We still need more research to know and understand what sort of impact on health and people around these e-cigarettes are having.”

Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | June 14, 2021