Dear Dr. Reitz: My 18-year-old daughter and her friends often get together to smoke electronic cigarettes. She said the e-cigarettes were developed to help addicted smokers stop the habit, and therefore believes they are safe to use. Do you know of any oral cancer risks from smoking e-cigarettes that I can share with my daughter? – Carol
Dear Carol: Your daughter is correct in that e-cigarettes were first marketed by the tobacco manufacturers as an aid to smoking cessation. What she needs to know is that they are also a pathway to begin cigarette smoking.
According to a study published March 14 in PLOS One, in an effort in 2015 to stop smoking, 2,070 current cigarette smoking adults switched to e-cigarettes. In that same year, it is also estimated that 168,000 never-smoking adolescents ages 12-17 and young adults ages 18-29 become daily cigarette smokers after first using only e-cigarettes. This means that for each person who quits smoking by using e-cigarettes, there are 81 people who begin smoking regular cigarettes after only smoking e-cigarettes.
There is a federal requirement that e-cigarette purchasers be at least 18 years of age. However, their popularity and flavor additives such as bubble gum and chocolate make them attractive to younger teenagers. It’s estimated that teenagers who use e-cigarettes are three times more likely to smoke cigarettes than those who do not.
There is no research supporting the safety of e-cigarettes, so many teenagers consider them safe because they are marketed without the warning labels of regular tobacco products. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, e-cigarette vapor can contain propylene glycol, glycerine, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, toluene, nitrosamines, nickel, cadmium, aluminum, silicon and lead. While the levels of the contents in the vapor are much lower than in conventional cigarettes, some of them have been shown to cause cancer.
Currently, e-cigarettes are an $11.5 billion industry, with sales continuing to grow. In 2011, approximately 1.5 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes. That increased to 16 percent by 2015. There is also no scientific evidence to support the safety of e-cigarettes.