What You Should Know about Smoking and E-Cigarettes

Cigarette smoking in the United States continues to decrease, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  While this may be good news, cigarette smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. It is a huge burden on the healthcare system and healthcare costs. To combat nicotine addiction and cigarette smoking, e-cigarettes have been marketed as a safe and beneficial alternative.  The bad news is that e-cigarettes are neither safe nor beneficial.      

In 2018, the CDC reports an all-time low in the percent of both adult (14%) and youth (9%) cigarette smokers. That is great news, however, there is an upward trend in e-cigarettes (vaping) use, particularly among youth.  Today, middle school and high school use of e-cigarettes is ten times greater than it was in 2011.  The upward tick of e-cigarette usage is due in part to marketing that promotes it as a less harmful alternative to smoking. For cigarette smokers, advertisers promise that e-cigarettes will reduce cigarette cravings and aid in cessation. The problem is that manufacturers of e-cigarettes also target youth, many of whom are not cigarette smokers, by offering things like candy and fruit flavored products and college scholarships. Ironically, studies are finding that for previously non-smoking customers, the use of e-cigarettes has served as a gateway to tobacco products, not to mention health issues caused by the chemicals in the e-cigarette and nicotine addiction.

What exactly are e-cigarettes? E-cigarettes are electronic devices that allow users to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and other additives.  Some of the additives include cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles that embed deep into the lungs. They are not approved by the FDA as a quit smoking aid.  Two studies show that e-cigarettes may help smokers stop smoking.  However, studies also show that in most cases smokers do not quit smoking but switch to dual use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

The FDA is seeking ways to curb the accelerating youth trend of e-cigarette use which results in nicotine addiction. They are considering a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes from retail stores due to their lack of enforcement of age restrictions.  They are also considering banning most flavored e-cigarettes because of the appeal to youth.  Nicotine exposure during youth to early 20’s can cause addiction and is harmful to the developing brain.  Nicotine is also harmful to pregnant women and their babies.

Nicotine addiction is difficult but not impossible to overcome. It takes a strong will to quit and support from family, friends and often assistance from counselors and sometimes medications. For those wishing to quit smoking cigarettes, the best long-term success is reported to be the “stopping cold turkey” approach. The next best results are among those who enroll in a program that involves group counseling and medications to ween the smoker off their nicotine addiction.  The least successful are those who try nicotine patches or e-cigarettes with no other assistance. E-cigarettes, unfortunately, are not a safe or effective alternative and instead seem to have created another unhealthy trend for our youth.  Expect to see increased restrictions on e-cigarettes as the FDA attempts to rein in what looks to be a growing, unhealthy epidemic, especially among the youth.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, he is on the faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.  www.MiddleburgSmiles.com.

Dr. Gallegos