Ask the Expert: E-Cigarettes Explained

  ecigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that emit doses of vaporized nicotine that are inhaled. Manufacturers tout them as being an alternative for tobacco users who want to avoid inhaling harmful smoke, but many medical experts remain unsure of their safety. Below, Dr. Siavash Jabbari, a radiation oncologist affiliated with the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, answers important questions about e-cigarettes.

Are e-cigarettes safe?
Just because nicotine is smoke-less doesn't mean it's safe. E-cigarettes are an alternative and potentially enhanced nicotine delivery system, and nicotine, a carcinogen, is among the most addictive and harmful substances known. In addition, nicotine acts as a stimulant, exerting negative effects on the cardiovascular system, critical regions of the brain and a developing fetus.

Are e-cigarettes approved or regulated by the FDA?
The FDA has been barred from regulating e-cigarettes as a drug or drug delivery system. Thus, levels of nicotine (and other substances) delivered by these devices is not regulated or monitored and may vary markedly.

Do e-cigarettes cause cancer?
Nicotine, the active ingredient in e-cigarettes, has been found to have potent carcinogenic effects in various studies. Because these devices are not under FDA regulation, the content and effects of other ingredients are not reliably known.

Can e-cigarettes help people quit smoking real cigarettes?
This is a matter of debate and has not been adequately studied. Current research has yielded conflicting results. Traditional smoking cessation aids and therapies, counseling, FDA-regulated nicotine replacement aids and other medications prescribed by your doctor are the best studied and likely to be the most effective and safest way to overcome a nicotine habit.

Is secondhand vapor harmful?
The research and data are still emerging, but early studies have suggested exposure to pollutants and carcinogens in users and the emission of these into surrounding air lead to increased concentrations, even in well-ventilated rooms. This has raised concerns about the harmful effects of secondhand vapor.

Can one become addicted to e-cigarettes?
Yes, because nicotine is highly addictive.

Are e-cigarettes an issue for parents and kids?
E-cigarettes are increasingly advertised and marketed to youth and there's been a dramatic and rapid rise in their use by children, adolescents and nonsmokers. Thus, alarms have been raised that e-cigarettes may lead to increasing rates of nicotine dependence and act as a "gateway" to more traditional forms of tobacco use. Parents, teachers, physicians and community advocates must take an active role in educating children and adolescents in the adverse health effects and addictive properties of all nicotine use, including e-cigarettes.

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Dr. Siavash Jabbari

Ask the Expert
Dr. Siavash Jabbari is a radiation oncologist affiliated with the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.