General Practice Wellbeing & Fitness

E-Cigarettes: good or bad?

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Written by Mindy Gurminder for Doctify

E-cigarettes have been a topic of debate over recent years and a new government study has found that nearly half the population (44.8%) don’t realise that they are less harmful than conventional cigarettes. In fact 22.1% actually believe that e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful than smoking, but what actually are the benefits and potential harms of using e-cigarettes? Unfortunately, there is currently no concrete long-term safety data about their use but what we do know is that they have a complex mix of potential risks and benefits.

The good

Smoking is currently the biggest killer in the UK and the recent government study found that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than normal smoking. Smoking has been found to cause 1 in 4 cancer deaths in the UK and smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers . It is the tar in the cigarette smoke that contains most of the carcinogens and nasty chemicals that can cause these diseases. Therefore the major benefit of e-cigarettes is that they don’t produce the tar.

E-Cigarette, good, bad

The new government study also suggests that the highest successful quit rates are now being seen in smokers who use an e-cigarette to receive their nicotine fix, rather than conventional nicotine patches or gum. However, another recent review that analysed 38 different studies contradicts this. It found that e-cigarette use was associated with significantly less quitting among smokers. In fact the odds of quitting were 28% lower compared to those who didn’t use e-cigarettes.

The bad

Now for the bad news, e-cigarettes also have three major downsides. The first of which is the health risks associated with the nicotine that you get from them.  Not only has nicotine been found to increase the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes but it is also highly addictive. It is therefore believed by many that its use will result in changes within the brain that could increase the risk of addiction to other drugs. This is especially the case with nicotine use in adolescents, as nicotine has been found to impair brain development and may lead to attention deficit disorders such as ADHD. This is due to the fact that an adolescent’s brain is a lot more sensitive to nicotine than an adult.

Secondly although e-cigarettes do not deliver the deadly tar that is found in conventional cigarettes they do however, deliver a different array of deadly chemicals. E-cigarettes contain substances including diethylene glycol a highly toxic substance that has been linked to kidney failure. As well as various different nitrosamines, which some of the carcinogens that are also found in tobacco. Flavoured e-cigarettes also deliver another potential health threat. Diacetyl, the main compound they contain is associated with the lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans. This is characterised by an irreversible loss of pulmonary function that may lead to the need for a lung transplant.

Finally e-cigarettes could also be a gateway to cigarettes and drug abuse. Especially as the study above that looked into the consequences of nicotine on brain development also found that nicotine abuse could lead to poor impulse control.

Taking all of this into account, people who do not already smoke should not begin using e-cigarettes as they come with their own risks. However, e-cigarettes provide a much less dangerous nicotine source for people who are already addicted to cigarettes. Although they may not help these people to quit smoking all together, they may help to reduce the number of cigarette related deaths each year.

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