Safety of E-Cigarettes

Last Modified: March 22, 2012

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Question

Are smokeless, electronic cigarettes harmful in terms of causing health problems?

Answer

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink Nurse Educator, responds:

Jared Weiss, MD, an oncologist at UNC Cancer Center, previously addressed this for us: I looked into this question recently and the quality of data is poor and does not allow a definitive answer to this question. The FDA recently evaluated the question and expressed concern. I am also not an expert on e-cigs (I am not sure that anyone properly is), but I do know that nicotine itself is a confirmed mutagen. Mutagens are chemicals that cause mutations, or changes in DNA. A normal body cell becomes a cancer cell by acquiring mutations in several keys genes (which ones vary from cancer to cancer). In addition, there was some stuff at World Lung this year on lung cancers actually bearing receptors for nicotine, raising the idea that nicotine itself could help drive their growth. Therefore, while I suspect that e-cigs may be less harmful than "real" cigs, they probably are not harmless.

The FDA is looking into these and says they are planning to regulate them in the future. This has some helpful links at:

Smokeless Tobacco and E-Cigarettes

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire Cancer Risk & Prevention Webchat transcript.