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E-Cigarettes 101

Pro and Con continued...

Opponents say that because nicotine is addictive, e-cigarettes could be a "gateway drug," leading nonsmokers and kids to use tobacco. They also worry that manufacturers -- with huge advertising budgets and celebrity endorsements -- could make smoking popular again. That would roll back decades of progress in getting people to quit or never start smoking.

Others look at possible benefits for smokers. "Obviously, it would be best if smokers could quit completely," says Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health. "But if that's not possible, I think they'd be a lot better off with e-cigarettes. They're a safer alternative."

Siegel compares replacing tobacco with e-cigarettes to heroin users switching to the painkiller methadone. The replacement may have its own risks, but it's safer.

Some supporters believe that e-cigarettes could help people quit, just like nicotine gum. Initial research looks promising, but more long term, in-depth studies are needed.

What Parents Should Know

  • Nicotine can affect brain development in children and teens, Drummond says.
  • Some e-cigarettes have candy flavoring, which could make them appealing to kids.
  • They don't leave a smell like tobacco. So it's harder for parents to know if their kids are vaping.

What Adults and Smokers Need to Know

  • If you don't smoke, don't start vaping. There are no health benefits and some risks.
  • If you smoke and are trying to quit, you're better off with an FDA-approved method of quitting, Drummond says, like the nicotine patch or gum. There's good evidence that they help. E-cigarettes may turn out to be an effective way to quit, but we don't have the proof yet.
  • If you're not planning to quit, would it be healthier to switch from tobacco products to e-cigarettes? Maybe. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.

While experts debate, some cities -- like Boston, Los Angeles, and New York -- have passed laws about how people can buy or use e-cigarettes in public.

Bigger, changes are likely.

The FDA has proposed new regulations that would extend the agency’s authority over many tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

A minimum age requirement is among the proposed regulations.

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Reviewed on January 03, 2014

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