Ask the Doctor: What's So Bad About E-Cigarettes?

Use of e-cigarettes has been booming among young people – but even though these products are usually branded as less damaging than real cigarettes, are they actually healthier or safer? It’s very easy to puff on e-cigarettes and vaporizers like these without considering the consequences, and many are especially attracted to sleek, discreet vaporizers called Juuls, which have become increasingly popular at colleges and high schools despite the fact that each Juul pod has as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

Dr. Phillips, co-founder of MedAccess Urgent Care, spoke with Diana Pressey about the health effects of alternative smoking methods.

Diana Pressey: What’s the difference between e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes?

Dr. Dan Phillips: Cigarettes contain real tobacco that burns at low intensity, and the smoke is inhaled. They have numerous cancer-causing compounds, along with nicotine. E-cigarettes, on the other hand, use electricity to vaporize liquid into smoke, which is inhaled. There is still nicotine in them, which is one of the most addictive substances we know. Neither cigarettes nor e-cigarettes are good for you.

Pressey: Are e-cigarettes healthier or safer than regular cigarettes or cigars?

Phillips: Not in the long-term, no. Many of the long-term effects are yet to be known, but anything that causes smoke is an incompletely combusted substance, and any smoke will cause inflammation to the lungs and upper airways. E-cigs and vaping are shown to increase arterial stiffness, which is an indicator of future heart disease. Even without the harmful effects of the tar and carcinogens in traditional cigarettes, there is still an addictive substance in nicotine that raises your heart rate and blood pressure in addition to causing indigestion and a host of other problems.

Pressey: Is smoking from a hookah pipe any safer or healthier than smoking regular cigarettes?

Phillips: It is not. Water pipe smoking carries the same health risk as cigarettes and delivers nicotine.

Pressey: What about chewing tobacco?

Phillips: Chewing tobacco is bad for the teeth, gums and gastrointestinal tract. It also delivers nicotine, which elevates your heart rate and blood pressure while causing increased acid secretion in the stomach. Anything with tobacco or nicotine in it isn’t going to be good for your health, ever.

Pressey: What do you have to say about Juuls, given their popularity among high school and college students?

Phillips: Juuls still deliver nicotine, which is probably the most addictive substance we know about – more so than alcohol, more so than cocaine, more so than heroin. It takes a toll on the body.

Pressey: Is there ever any instance in which you’d recommend that someone use e-cigarettes or vaporizers – for instance, for cigarette smokers attempting to quit?

Phillips: No. I would never recommend it. Nicotine is the problem. If you want to quit, just quit. Stay away from triggers or things that you associate with smoking, like bars where you typically smoke or friends who you smoke with. Remember that drinking lowers your inhibitions and lowers your resolve, so you’ll be more likely to smoke if you drink.

Pressey: What's the bottom line when it comes to these alternative smoking methods?

Phillips: Just don’t do it. These things seem harmless, but every time you Juul or vape or puff on a water pipe, you are doing irreversible damage to your body in the long term. You’ll regret it, later.

 Avoid the long wait for your primary care physician by visiting a MedAccess Urgent Care location in Chapel Hill, Roxboro or Youngsville. Walk-in or skip the wait entirely by checking in online.

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