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E-cigarettes are not actually a healthy smoking alternative

A new study finds that smoking e-cigarettes isn’t safe — and it’s not a useful way to quit using traditional cigarettes.

Woman smoking an cigarette

Photo credit: diego_cervo/iStock/360/Getty Images

Some people say that the best way to quit smoking is just to stop. Others are turning to e-cigarettes as a way to cut down. But according to a new report by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, the devices can’t live up to that promise.

Also known as electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes are sometimes marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco. Marketers often claim that the vapor is harmless.

The researchers found that vaping (another word for smoking) with e-cigarettes is linked to lower odds of quitting traditional cigarettes. They also found that the emissions are not harmless. In fact, the long-term effects of e-cigarette smoking are unknown.

The authors looked at 84 research studies on the devices and published their paper in the journal, Circulation. They say that e-cigarettes should be prohibited wherever tobacco cigarettes are not allowed, and should have to undergo the same marketing scrutiny as traditional cigarettes.

According to figures, the use of the devices grew from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent a year later. That refers to youth who smoke them regularly or have tried them once. Most adults who smoke them also smoke traditional cigarettes.

About a third of e-cigarette users who are adolescents have never smoked a conventional cigarette, which means that they are still getting the addictive nicotine material.

Impacts to others

The researchers also looked at the exposure from secondhand vapors and found that there were negative impacts on lung function. People not vaping absorb nicotine from passive exposure to e-cigarette aerosol, the authors say.

“While it is reasonable to assume that, if existing smokers switched completely from conventional cigarettes (with no other changes in use patterns) to e-cigarettes, there would be a lower disease burden caused by nicotine addiction, the evidence available at this time, although limited, points to high levels of dual use of e-cigarettes with conventional cigarettes, no proven cessation benefits, and rapidly increasing youth initiation with e-cigarettes,” the authors said.

They also said that the high rates of dual use — smoking traditional and electronic devices — could create a bigger health burden and increased risk to the smoker.

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