Thinking about switching to e-cigarettes? Read this first.

Man holds an e-cigarette.

Written by Audrey Darville, PhD, APRN, a tobacco treatment specialist; Tia Borger, a clinical psychology graduate student; and Jessica Burris, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology.

In recent years, an alarming trend has emerged: More and more people, including youth, are using e-cigarettes.

What is even bigger cause for concern is that there have been at least 450 cases of severe respiratory illnesses among people who vape, specifically those who use cannabis vaping products, as of Sept. 6, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some health officials suspect that this severe lung damage is because these products contain high levels of vitamin E, which is safe as a dietary supplement but could be harmful if it's inhaled.

The CDC recommends to avoid using e-cigarettes entirely.

Here's what else researchers know about e-cigarettes and what to try instead to stop smoking and stay tobacco-free:

What goes into e-cigarettes?

There are currently more than 400 devices and 7,000 flavoring chemicals. E-cigarettes are not just one thing: Chemicals in e-liquids, the battery (which controls the temperature), and components of the device itself differ depending on the manufacturer. All of this variation makes it difficult for studies to determine exactly what an e-cigarette user is inhaling or “vaping.”

Since becoming available about a decade ago, e-cigarettes are still not fully regulated by the FDA, which means there are no current standards regarding the chemical components or safety of the ingredients (there are not even requirements to list the ingredients).

What are the health risks associated with e-cigarettes?

Researchers are still studying the health effects of both short and long-term e-cigarette use. It has not yet been determined whether or not e-cigarettes can cause cancer.

Here are four key things to remember:

1. There is evidence that heating e-liquids produces chemicals that are known to cause cancer, although the amount is less than in combustible cigarette smoke. Currently, e-cigarettes are considered to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes because they do not burn tobacco – the process that causes numerous cancer-causing chemicals to be formed in tobacco smoke. But, less harm is not the same as no harm.

2. E-cigarette vapor is not water; it is a mixture of aerosolized particles and ultra-fine particles that contain chemicals and even tiny pieces of metal. These are readily absorbed through the lungs with unknown long-term consequences. Many smoke-free facilities, including UK HealthCare, prohibit e-cigarette use for this reason.

3. Using e-cigarettes in addition to traditional, combustible cigarettes exposes you to even more toxic chemicals.

4. E-cigarette use, particularly newer pod-based devices, exposes you to high levels of nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco. This puts you at risk for future combustible cigarette use and nicotine addiction.

How can I quit smoking?

If you smoke cigarettes or use another tobacco product like chew or dip, quitting is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Instead of using e-cigarettes to help you quit smoking, consider other options, such as medications and behavioral quit strategies that are safe, effective and accessible. These include the FDA-approved medications of nicotine replacement (NRT), Chantix® and Zyban® plus counseling support.

Only five out of 100 people who try to quit without help succeed, so ask for help! Insurers often provide free or low-cost medications and counseling support.

If you want help to quit, call Quit Now Kentucky at 800-QUIT-NOW for free counseling and other support. For individuals receiving cancer care at the UK Markey Cancer Center, call 859-323-2798 for more information about the Markey CARES Tobacco Treatment Program, a high-quality, evidence-based program that can help you quit.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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