In addition to Dr. Burstyn’s paper, the CASAA web site provides links to all available e-cigarette research and tests. You can view this information in the CASAA E-cigarette section.
Good question. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear answer. What we do know is that pharmaceutical companies do not like to see smokers switching to e-cigarettes instead of using pharmaceutical drugs and nicotine products. The pharmaceutical industry and its “foundations” fund a lot of anti-tobacco research and supports many of the anti-tobacco organizations and politicians that object to e-cigarettes and tobacco harm reduction policies.
We also know that there is a small, but very vocal, part of the public health community that is against anything that doesn’t require 100% abstinence from all tobacco and nicotine. Their objection to e-cigarettes appear to be more ideological than science-based and it seems they would rather smokers remain uncertain enough about e-cigarette safety that they will choose to keep trying to quit smoking with traditional methods instead. Unfortunately, while this may be an option for those smokers who are actively trying to quit, it keeps smokers who aren’t trying to quit – or who fail to quit using traditional methods – using the most hazardous product on the market, rather than a far safer alternative.
The reports that there are studies that show potential health risks due to e-cigarette use are premature. In spite of what has been reported, the studies done to date have not only been largely inconclusive, but have actually found that the levels of contaminants detected in e-cigarette liquid and vapor are so low that it is highly doubtful they would even pose a health risk. Most certainly, they are thousands of times less of a risk than continuing to smoke. The fact is, the mere “detection” of a chemical does not mean that a product is hazardous. Every day we harmlessly consume and breathe in chemicals that would be toxic at much higher levels. It is disingenuous for public health organizations that disapprove of e-cigarettes to point to the trace levels found in e-cigarette studies as conclusive evidence of a potential health risk.
Dr. Igor Burstyn, of Drexel University, reviewed all of the available chemistry on e-cigarette vapor and liquid and found that the levels reported — even in those studies that were hyped as showing there is a danger — are well below the level that is of concern. His report was peer-reviewed and published January 2014 on Bio Med Central’s Public Health Journal: “Peering through the mist: systematic review of what the chemistry of contaminants in electronic cigarettes tells us about health risks”
In 2011, The FDA issued a statement regarding the approved smoking cessation drug Chantix, which has been linked to over 500 deaths, suicidal tendencies and heart attacks. The FDA stated that “the drug’s benefits outweigh the risks.” E-cigarettes have been on the market nearly as long as Chantix, without reports of significant adverse reactions or deaths. Studies have shown that while chemicals have been detected, they are too low to pose any significant health risks and are certainly far less exposure than found in cigarette smoke. It is clear to anyone who reviews the more than 60 available studies on e-cigarette liquids and vapor that the benefits of e-cigarettes also “far outweigh the risks.”
Though testing by the FDA and some researchers have discovered trace amounts of tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are known to cause cancer with high exposure, the amounts found were extremely low and unlikely to cause cancer. To put it in perspective, an e-cigarette contains nearly the exact same trace levels of nitrosamines as the FDA-approved nicotine patch and about 1,300 times less nitrosamines than a Marlboro cigarette. This means that e-cigarettes would not be any more likely to cause cancer than FDA-approved nicotine gums, patches or lozenges.
While anything containing nicotine cannot be called 100% safe, evidence from numerous studies strongly suggests that they are magnitudes safer than tobacco cigarettes. Harm reduction experts can point to research supporting that switching from cigarettes to a smokefree product will reduce health risks to less than 1% of smoking traditional cigarettes – nearly the same as non-smokers. For tobacco harm reduction health professionals, it is misleading and irresponsible for public health officials to tell smokers that smokeless products, such as e-cigarettes, are “not a safe alternative to smoking” simply because they are “only” 99% safer and not 100% safe.