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Electronic cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than conventional cigarettes

By Madison Park
August 28, 2015

Electronic cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than conventional cigarettes and could help smokers quit tobacco, a UK government study recently concluded, wading into a long-running debate.

While much research has been done on conventional cigarettes, data on e-cigs is much more sparse. This is because e-cigs were only invented in 2003 by a Chinese pharmacist, while tobacco has been around for centuries.

Because of e-cigarettes’ relative newness, their potential risks or benefits are not well-understood. There aren’t decades-long epidemiological data for researchers to analyze. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it’s unclear whether e-cig users are inhaling potentially harmful chemicals. The California Department of Health earlier this year declared them a public health threat.

The general consensus is that e-cigs are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, mainly because there is no smoke or burning involved. “They’re simpler than cigarettes,” Jonathan Foulds, PhD, professor of public health sciences and psychiatry at Penn State University’s College of Medicine and Cancer Institute, tells Yahoo Health. “You burn it, cigarettes creates 7,000 different chemicals into your body. But with e-cigarettes, there’s no combustion. The good news is that you’re inhaling a vapor that’s got four to five things as opposed to 7,000 things.
But not all e-cigs are created equal. There are hundreds of brands with simple products resembling conventional tobacco cigarettes to more high-end, sophisticated vape pens. The FDA has found inconsistencies with some e-cigs containing nicotine when they’re marketed as free of the substance, not to mention varying levels of quality. At this point, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA, although the agency seeks to change that soon.

Not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine. And some of the products let users control the amount and potency of the liquid solution. What’s inside the liquid solution vary by brand and flavors, such as butter popcorn and cookies and cream, which carry different chemical agents. Other e-cigs are more straightforward, with about five ingredients.

“The question is: What’s the effect on the body of the four to five things?” says Foulds.

The problem remains: lack of data. “There’ve been few studies that investigated the extent of biological effects,” says Jake McDonald, PhD, director of Environmental Respiratory Health Program and the Chemistry and Inhalation Exposure Program at Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in New Mexico.”