National Geographic Daily News
An electronic cigarette store owner demonstrates a product.

A man uses an electronic cigarette, a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes. But questions linger over their safety.

Photograph by Diedra Laird, Charlotte Observer/MCT/Getty Images

Diane Cole

for National Geographic

Published September 15, 2013

Electronic cigarettes may produce an aerosol vapor instead of smoke, but two new studies raise burning questions about their uses and risks.

E-cigs—as these battery-operated nicotine inhalers are commonly called—are increasingly popular, with a Wells Fargo financial analyst predicting that U.S. sales will double this year, going up to $1.7 billion.

Their visibility is becoming ever greater as well, with television and online marketing campaigns that feature celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Stephen Dorff touting the pleasures of what they describe as more socially acceptable, "guilt-free" smoking.

The reasoning behind such claims is that e-cigs, which have the look of conventional cigarettes stylishly updated for the techno-age, produce vapor instead of ash or smoke. They also generally deliver lower amounts of nicotine than conventional cigarettes—a feature that may make e-cigarettes useful as an aid to smoking cessation.

Research Urgently Needed

Whether that is so was the focus of a study published in The Lancet, which concluded that e-cigarettes were statistically comparable to nicotine patches in helping smokers quit over a six-month period.

But this was only the first study to compare e-cigarettes to an already established quitting aid. "There is still so much that is unknown about the effectiveness and long-term effects of e-cigarettes" that more research is "urgently needed," cautioned lead researcher Chris Bullen, director of the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

In that vein, Alexander Prokhorov, a smoking cessation expert at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center who was not involved in the study, commented, "I'm glad that there is finally some tangible research starting to appear."

But several aspects worry him. "Nicotine is not a neutral substance," and in addition to being highly addictive, "it can be a poisonous substance."

Because e-cigs mimic the look and rituals of conventional cigarette smoking, there is a danger that rather than e-cigs helping you quit, "you may just switch to this product and continue using it," Prokhorov said. And since a smoker's dependence on nicotine remains, there is a risk for a relapse to smoking conventional cigarettes.

Not a Risk-Free Alternative

Still, wouldn't there be some potential benefit to using only electronic cigarettes as an alternative to conventional cigarettes? "There is no question that e-cigarettes deliver less toxins than conventional cigarettes," said Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California, San Francisco's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. They may have as little as one-tenth of the toxins inhaled from burning tobacco, he said.

(Related: "Cigarettes vs. e-Cigarettes: Which Is Less Environmentally Harmful?")

But that's not the entire story, he emphasized. "Whereas e-cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes, in an absolute sense they are negative," because they contain a number of toxic chemicals and ultrafine particles in addition to nicotine, and secondhand e-cig vapor could be harmful.

Moreover, he continued, "most people who use e-cigarettes also continue to use regular cigarettes; they are dual users. That means they are probably suffering all the risks from smoking."

There is also a quality control issue for e-cigarettes, both Glantz and Prokhorov agreed. Unlike prescription nicotine patches, no electronic cigarettes have been approved for therapeutic use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products," said FDA spokesperson Jennifer Haliski. (Although the FDA's authority extends only to those e-cigs marketed for therapeutic purpose, with none having gained approval, it has announced its intention to propose broadening regulations to encompass additional categories of tobacco products that would include all electronic cigarettes.)

That's an important point, said Glantz, because the Lancet study's bottom line is that electronic cigarettes "are no worse than nicotine patches, but they are no better either." That leads to the question: "Why would you use something that has not been tested when there is something [with] quality control and [that] has been tested?"

Gateway Cigs for Teens?

Another question, about the average age of electronic cigarette users, brings us to the second study. This one, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that the number of U.S. middle and high school students using e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012, bringing the number nationwide who had tried e-cigs to 1.78 million.

That statistic is disturbing, said Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, because about 90 percent of all smokers begin in their teens. E-cigarettes may be particularly attractive to youngsters because they are sold in a broad array of flavors, including cherry, vanilla, and even bubblegum. "We know that this makes these products more appealing to children," he said. "The worry is that it is going to acclimatize kids to the behaviors that are like smoking. Until proven otherwise, we need to assume that this may increase their chances of taking up smoking with burn [conventional] cigarettes."

Prokhorov shares that worry. "My major concern is that this will be a gateway behavior, a potential risk of getting kids hooked on nicotine for life," he said. That's also why Glantz favors greater regulations, including banning the use of flavors (which are prohibited in conventional tobacco cigarettes) as well as prohibiting the sale of e-cigs to minors.

"In the current world, where cigarettes are ubiquitous with a marketing budget of $8 billion a year, we have to be careful and not make it easy" for vulnerable children to start using tobacco, said McAfee, whose budget for the CDC's 2012 Tips from Former Smokers campaign was $54 million.

"You go on YouTube and see how e-cigarettes are being glamorized, making smoking look sexy and rebellious," he said, which are the very elements that research has shown will attract kids to smoking. This is why media critics are comparing current e-cig ads to the ubiquitous cigarette ads of the 1950s, he added.

But going back to that era would be a mistake, said Prokhorov. "Psychologically, our society has just started to enjoy a tobacco-free and smoke-free life," he said. "The renaissance of cigarettes in e- or any other form is not a pretty picture."

77 comments
Ben Yau
Ben Yau

My close family unfortunately has a history of cancer.  Consequently I tried quitting cigs cold turkey which didn't work, and then by slowly cutting down, neither of which were remotely successful.


Buying an ecig is the best health decision I have made recently.  Not only do I now only smoke a few cigs on a night in town, I actually enjoy the flavour of vapor vs regular cigarettes, so I don't even crave conventional cigarettes anymore.


I've researched a lot of ecig products and tried many, and I really suggest not getting the cigarette look-a-like in favour of either an "ego twist" or "vision spinner".  They have the most bang-for-buck in my opinion.


I've also researched a lot about the (admittedly sparse) scientific papers about the health risks of e-cigs (including an hour long presentation by a professor on youtube) and my conclusions are:


-They undoubtedly are much less toxic than cigarettes.


-The ingredients used as long (as the e-liquid makers are trustworthy) individually pose no or negligible health risks if ingested, with the exception of a very high level of nicotine, and to do that you would have to actually drink the liquid (please don't) because you would have to inhale so much nicotine for it to kill you that you would have a powerful headache or pass out before getting close to the fatal amount.


 -However ingesting these ingredients isn't the same as inhaling them in to your lungs, which is what you are doing with e-cigs, so this is where my main worry lies.  But how likely is it that something that can be ingested safely is harmful to inhale?  A number of people have been using ecigs for literally years, and so far no harm that I can find has been reported from proper use.

Si Campbell
Si Campbell

I am a dual user, I smoke vape during the day at work, a love a smoke in the evening at home, The way I see it is I'm halfing my tobacco use, and that has to be a bonus, not Rocket science is it.

James Stafford
James Stafford

Hi all I am a newly converted vaper !!! why did I start vaping? well its cheaper and better for me, If someone had said it would meet my craving I wouldn't have believed them so I am both very pleased and very surprised that it does !!!

The only thing that concerns me is the uk govt puts a hefty chunk of duty on tobacco products so the more people who switch to vaping the more they are going to be concerned and could lead to action like passing new laws regarding taxation of nicotine products to pull back the loss of duty. Lets face it the UK govt doesn't really want anyone to quite smoking as its a massive money spinner for them.

I also find it hard to believe that the e-liquid we use is un regulated and un tested? its like Joe Bloggs off the street comes up with a new food product and markets it with out any testing? its just not going to happen as we have regulatory bodies that over see and govern this..

I enjoy smoking and have no plans to give up so the vape is a fantastic alternative in my eyes.

Happy vaping everyone and well done for making the switch and keeping more pennies in your pocket and out of the Governments purse !!!

Betty Buttocks
Betty Buttocks

Moreover, he continued, "most people who use e-cigarettes also continue to use regular cigarettes; they are dual users. That means they are probably suffering all the risks from smoking."

 
Huh?


Where is this genius getting these comical facts? I've not yet seen a single case of these "dual users". Ever.

Perhaps there are some, somewhere. But I live in a large city, and know many people who vape, and many people who work at and congregate at vape shops. And every single one of them, without exception, gave up traditional smoking for vaping. Zero cases of this hypothetical "dual users", and no cases of individuals who started vaping with no history of traditional smoking. Every single person I know, or know of, who vapes.....switched to it from traditional smoking out of health concerns.

 

To say "Most people" are using e-cigs AND traditional cigarettes, is either brutally irresponsible/ignorant, or a shameful fabrication.

Lucia D'Alete
Lucia D'Alete

I found this in an article (which seemed to have an intelligent, balanced, NON-MORALIZING view of the product, the controversy and the limited, albeit varied, research and medical opinions thus far made public) written by a Ms Sarah Hartley in the Daily Mail (UK):


"Arguably the UK's leading champion of e-cigarettes is ASH board member Professor John Britton. He leads the tobacco advisory group for the RCP, and is director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at Nottingham University. He says: 'There are ten million smokers alive today who will eventually be killed by smoking. If they had used e-cigarettes, those deaths could be avoided. It's a massive potential public health prize. Successive governments have failed to tackle tobacco smoking, watching as millions die in an entirely preventable epidemic. 

'It is vital to do all we can to help people to quit smoking tobacco, and prevent young people from starting to smoke. Given the right controls, e-cigarettes could make a huge contribution to that.'"


And to further put things in perspective, which good journalism should do, in considering that big pharmaceutical companies are desperately mobilizing action to counteract their substantial drop in profits as related to their nicotine patches and other related products, we might research the following:


"In a New Zealand study, smokers were given either e-cigarettes, nicotine patches or nicotine-free e-cigarettes. 

Six months later, nicotine e-cigarettes had the highest success rate in terms of users quitting altogether, with 7.3 per cent, then patches at  5.8 per cent and the placebo at four per cent."



Lucia D'Alete
Lucia D'Alete

Please tell me monkeys momentarily took over the Editorial offices of National Geographic !  'Shoddy journalism' doesn't even begin to describe this sort of ridiculously obvious campaign whose sole aim is to prepare a population to have one more civil right taken away from them in the name of market control and profit.  I hope e-cig companies are willing to invest some money into hiring civil rights and litigation lawyers, and not turn their backs on the millions of people who buy their products as a healthier, cheaper alternative to cigarettes (over-taxed, thousands of known carcinogens, etc).  And by the way, Ms Cole, the nicotine product used in electronic cigarettes is NOT derived from tobacco leaves, hence, NOT a "tobacco product".

And, of course, nicotine in any form or from any source should not be made available to under-aged youth, in the same way that high levels of caffeine as found in every 'energy' drink should not be made available to young children.


Steve Sweetland
Steve Sweetland

I started smoking when I was 9! In 1970 it was not the devil it is today. I don't support kids smoking, I don't support kids using e-cigs, but fact is, it would be far less damage to them using an e-cig then a regular cig. 

The studies provide bias leaning information while disregarding actual damage control. Since the FDA had been deregulated, the occurrence of many issues have risen extremely fast. Why? because now they get paid to show results slanted in favor of the almighty dollar.

Why doesn't nat geo do an article about how many known carcinogens the FDA has approved to put into foods as well as tobacco?


E-cigs are not a "healthy" option, they are a harm reduction option for those who have tried the "approved" methods that also have known carcinogens as well as severe health risks as part of their side effects listing

Martin Lalumiere
Martin Lalumiere

Wow, what is this article doing on National Geo ?!? 


I have been a 40 cigs a day smoker for about 25 years , tried everything to stop, nothing worked. Got myself a E-Cig , never smoked a cigarette again.  My smell and taste are back, I can breathe without wheezing at all, my wife stopped nagging me , my clothes, my breath, my car and house smell great.


I vape less and less each week but I did not set a goal to stop yet, sorry but I just love smoking, I will one day but not for now.



Stop the propaganda about E-Cigs and wait for a couple of proper studies before writing this kinda crap.

John Wheeler
John Wheeler

I tried to use the patches and started having epileptic seizures as a result so Mr Author, maybe you ought to try and do some research before writing an article about a subject about which your knowledge is severely lacking.

Austin C.
Austin C.

I have struggled with smoking for about 12 years on and off. Last time I quit, I did not use tobacco for 2 years. I quit using an E-Cig, and had stopped smoking cigs within a week. Within a month I had stopped using E-Cigs as well. 

About a month ago, I started smoking again at a party (as it tends to happen). It is insane how fast I became addicted again. I wanted to quit, so I bought some e-cigs a week ago. So far, I'm just on day 4 of not smoking cigs. Considering I have been trying to quit since my first week of starting again, and have been unable to do so, 4 days of non-smoking is a big deal. 

 I'm on the right track. I imagine I'll quit E-Cigs within a month. For people who don't understand severe cigarette addiction... I have, on numerous occasions, thrown a pack away in a dumpster during the night, feeling adamant about quitting, and then jumped in the dumpster the next morning to fish them out. I have also poured water in my pack, and the next day, spent an hour blow-drying the cigs out. I can afford another pack. It just seems less terrible to have 10 cigs to my name rather than than 20.

E-Cigs stop me from doing all of that ridiculous stuff. When I feel like I'm going to freak out, and do something personally embarrassing to have a cigarette, an E-Cig will stop hold me off. And from my experience, E-Cigs are way easier to quit.  

Elaine Keller
Elaine Keller

Stanton Glantz asked, "Why would you use something that has not been tested when there is something [with] quality control and [that] has been tested?" What makes him think that we have already done so?  E-cigarettes are proving to be a blessing for the smokers who tried patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, and oral inhalers, not once, but multiple times.  Why multiple? Because we kept relapsing. Glantz has it backwards. He thinks that continuing to use nicotine via an e-cigarette will cause us to relapse. It has been our repeated experience that becoming abstinent from nicotine has caused relapse, 100% of the time.

Glantz (and Prokhorov  as well) can't seem to grasp the concept that was explained so clearly in the 2001 report, Clearing the Smoke, by the Institute of Medicine, and in the 2007 report Harm Reduction in Nicotine Addiction: Helping Smokers Who Can't Quit.  Harm is reduced by eliminating the elements in smoke that cause the lung disease, heart attacks, strokes, and cancers associated with smoking. Nicotine does not cause any of these diseases.The beneficial effects of nicotine such as improved ability to concentrate and pay attention keeps people smoking, but it is the delivery mechanism (inhaling smoke) not the nicotine that is harmful.

Glantz exaggerates the potential danger of miniscule trace quantities of some chemicals that are present in vapor. No chemical has ever been measured in vapor that exceeds safety levels set for workplace exposure.


Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

The government, FDA, IRS, Pharmaceutical companies, and media didn't care one iota about vaporizers until it became a billion-dollar industry.  Suddenly, we are hearing about safety, "the children", etc.  Every time I hear that "for the children" rhetoric, I know we are being lied to.  If the government really cares about children, they would stop marketing military service to high school kids, they would strengthen the weak education system in this country, and make sure that all children (not just the rich ones) have access to basic healthcare at no cost.  The government and Big Tobacco only care about one thing - money, not children.  If Big Tobacco could find a legal way to grind up babies and put them into cigarettes, they would.  If the government could find a way to ship off toddlers to war-zones to die in a meat-grinder, they would.  All of this anti-vaporizer rhetoric is nothing more than a smokescreen (pun intended) to cover their real agenda - profit and reducing fair competition.

John Kendall Pepper
John Kendall Pepper

Considering the shoddy research done for this article, I will never again read another National Geographic article nor watch another National Geographic TV program, and will spread the word to all my friends and family.  (And when I was growing up, we saved every printed issue.)

Ayma Ratt
Ayma Ratt

National geographic I am very disappointed in you. How much money were you paid by the FDA and the AMA to post this propaganda? 

I smoked for 35 years and had given up trying to quit. I was resigned to dying a smoker. I was given an ecig as a gift. Within 5 weeks I was smoke free, with in 6 months I was NICOTINE FREE. That was nearly 2 years ago. I haven't used my e-cig in over 6 weeks, I simply haven;t had the urge. I certainly don't crave cigarettes.  My doctor was very impressed that I'd managed to give up smoking AND NICOTINE with an ecig. "Anything that keeps smoke out of your lungs is great" he said. He even took a big pile of business cards for e-cig forums and vendors from me to share with other patients.    

Didn't we learn anything in the country from Prohibition? No one remembers what happened when they tried to force people not to drink alcohol? Haven't we learned anything from the outrageously expensive and pretty much futile war on pot? Not to mention the lives ruined because of mandatory prison sentences. Does anyone really believe that threats many millions of people not smoke dope?  Now we have some states finally getting sensible and decriminalizing pot. 

People, including teenagers , are going to drink and smoke pot. Some folks, some teenagers too, are going to use nicotine. No mater what laws are passed , no matter how dangerous it may or may not be, this will happen. Isn't it better that people enjoy their nicotine in a manner that doesn't involve burning tobacco?  When I see stories like this the cynic in me believes the medical professions and the drug makers are really more concerned with the money that will no longer flow into their pockets treating cancer victims and selling useless and sometimes dangerous quit smoking products. 

I'm sick of lawmakers and other busy bodies trying to tell me how to live my life. How I quit smoking is not some lawmaker's or public policy maker's business. We have serious problems in this country. E-CIGS ARE NOT ONE OF THEM. They could be a wonderful solution for those who've tried everything else but simply haven't been able to quit.  I think the man who invented the e-cig deserves the Noble Prize and any other health accolades we can find.  The anti-nicotine-unless-it-comes-from-a-pharmaceutical-company lobby needs to find something else to do with its time and money. Why don't you see if you can figure out how to keep the mentally ill from shooting up schools full of small children and other innocent souls?  

Jason Todrick
Jason Todrick

I've been a National Geographic fan since I was a wee lad... In both the magazine and on television.

Especially after Discovery's "Megalodon" disaster... 

I will never again pay for the magazine, or watch the television channel if this is the kind of junk science they report as fact.

David Rivera
David Rivera

I have quit smoking for over a year now and I'm now getting urges to smoke again. Can I use an "e cigarette" as a replacement? and if so do they have an e cigarette that contains no nicotine?

John Thompson
John Thompson

The article states, "Research Urgently Needed". And goes on to deliver a completely speculative and useless essay. I switched to ecigs without the notion of quitting and eventually found myself smoking less over time. At first I seemed to smoke more which has been reported in other articles, but then I naturally began to taper off and just stopped about 6 months ago. Now I am nicotine free. Ecigs were so much easier on my lungs. I started running at the gym and actually got healthier, lost weight and reduced my blood pressure significantly while using them. I believe all smokers should be encouraged to switch over. A refillable variable voltage model is the best choice and once the initial investment is made, the cost of refilling is many times lower that regular cigs as well.

Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

Wow, this one of the most informed, coherent, and sensible comment threads to an online story that I have ever seen.  Kudos to everyone so far.  (except that one sock puppet)....  LOL.

Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

Unless the FDA steps in, anyone can mix their own vaporizer juice.  Here is a list of the ingredients I use to make my own juice -

1) 100% organic, food-grade, vegetable glycerin.

2) pure nicotine base.

That's it.  No propylene glycol, no flavorings, no additives of any kind.  Vaporizer users call this kind of juice "stealth juice" because it has no smell or taste.  It's just a nicotine delivery vehicle, and that is it.  There is no safer delivery vehicle that also satisfies the so-called "smoking jones" which is what causes many people to fail when trying to quit smoking.

I smoked for 25 years and tried every known way to quit - patches, gum, pills (including Chantix), and cold turkey.  Nothing worked.  I quit within one week when I started using a vaporizer instead.  :)

Let's see the doctor poke holes in that.  Any good doctor should favor these new methods to quit smoking.  And even if someone just switches one habit for another, vaporizers are less damaging to the body than burning tobacco.  Even in a worst-case scenario (become addicted to vaporizer instead of cigarette), the vaporizer is the lesser of the two evils by a wide margin.

Real tobacco is going to vanish like vinyl records.  There will still be a few diehard adherents who like the "flavor", but most people will switch to the cheaper and safer option.  Big Tobacco sees the writing on the wall and wants the FDA to regulate and tax.  It's about money, not safety.


Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

Boon.  I smoked for over 25 years and tried to quit cold turkey, patches, pills, and gum.  Nothing worked.  I tried using a vaporizer (upgraded e-cigarette) and quit on the first try within a week.  Eventually the old-fashioned cigarettes will go away, like 8-track tapes.  Vaporizers are cheaper and less damaging to the body, and Big Tobacco is scared.  They want to push the FDA to regulate the heck out of "e-cigarettes" so only the big corporations can afford to comply and produce them - running all the smaller operators out of business.  It's not about safety or children, it's about money.  It's always about money.  If they want people to be safer, they would leave e-cigarettes alone and let responsible adults make their own decisions.  Minors can be prohibited from using e-cigs using existing laws.  New legislation or taxes are not necessary here.  Stockpile your liquid base now, because Big Gov and Big Tobacco are going to regulate and tax the heck out of it.  I make my own vaporizer juice and have enough to last me a lifetime - but the rest of you should care about this issue if you use vaporizers or plan to quit smoking using vaporizers. 

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis

I'll bet you 20 bucks that Alexander Prokhorov has nicotine in his system. (it's called the "background level" when testing for nicotine) Nicotine is a natural substance found in plant life. So his statement in this article is completely ludicrous. Nicotine is necessary for proper cognitive development, and the human race would still be competing with amoebas without it in our diet.

Please research your information before publishing.

George Glasser
George Glasser

 This was a garbage poorly researched piece. A real downgrade in quality for National Geographic and the quotes were uneducated trash.

The main components of E--juice are nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and food flavourings.

Essentially, most of the  the nicotine is absorbed in the mouth, then the lungs on basically a water vapour.

Propylene glycol is ubiquitous in foods and drugs, and also use in smoke machines. 

Food flavouring is also ubiquitous.

If one of the esteemed scientists bother to read a little instead of arrogantly pontificating like they actually knew what they were talking about, they would know that while addictive, nicotine by itself is not harmful to the health in the dosages found in e cigarettes.

Diane Cole's article is basically misinformation and poorly researched.

Robert Strahlendorf
Robert Strahlendorf

I am an adult and I chose to smoke e-cigs? If I enter into a contract with another adult or adults where they sell me an e-cig of a certain quality in exchange for a certain price, by what moral standard does the government have the right to use force to interfere with that agreement? I write this because there is an insinuation here that this force could possibly occur in the guise of "public policy". In the absence of fraud an intervention into that contract would be done by the busy bodies of the world.

If the busy bodies want to do research and publish, I have no problem. But once they introduce force into a peaceful situation under the totalitarian guise of "public policy", we should all have a problem.

Cx JRE
Cx JRE

Of all news sources that extrapolate on research studies (regardless of whether the method/motive/financial backing is questionable) NatGeo did a fair job looking at 'published data'.  

The flipside to this that some here are upset about has much to do with user opinion, like my own is favorable towards ecigs.  They reiterate the important fact: "There is still so much that is unknown about the effectiveness and long-term effects of e-cigarettes" that more research is "urgently needed,"!

I 110% agree that we can't know for sure.  No self-respecting news source would veer towards public opinion alone or in the opposite direction.  There is little bias here, questions and concerns are highlight.  

Even Steven
Even Steven

"... Glantz favors greater regulations, including banning the use of flavors (which are prohibited in conventional tobacco cigarettes) as well as prohibiting the sale of e-cigs to minors."

All the e-cig vendors I know of have strict policies against selling to minors, regardless of the law.

I have to agree with the concerns about added flavoring agents, though.  Regardless of the known effects of nicotine and supposedly benign effects of PEG, we have to admit that we know nothing about the wide range of chemicals that make up flavoring agents.  It is easy to imagine they could be carcinogenic or fibrosis-inducing when applied daily to pulmonary tissue (and/or absorbed systemically) for years to decades.  The problem with relying on animal models and short-term human studies is that it sets us up for unseen delayed effects 30 years down the road.


Still, if I were a cigarette smoker, I would buy an e-cig today.   Even if I remained a nicotine addict for life, I would still be better off in countless ways despite a remote chance of  developing pulmonary fibrosis or lung cancer late in life anyway.

Xira Arien
Xira Arien

Stupid and pointless exaggeration of the actual threat.

So 10% of kids have EVER used a single E-cig, versus the 60% that have used the much more harmful real-cig? So 3% of kids are regular e-cig users versus the 35% that regularly use the much more harmful real-cigs?

E-cigs are a marvelous invention that takes the damage out of getting your fix and helps those who want to quit, quit. I must have inhaled 10,000 times as much propylene glycerol from the fog machines at nightclubs than I did during the year of E-cig use it took me to quit completely!

We should be subsidizing E-cigs, handing them out to teenagers on the street corners, not regulating them and using scare tactics because they 'look like' something that's actually harmful!

Even Time thinks so ( http://ideas.time.com/2013/09/... )

http://llltexas.com <- my blog

Justin Braatz
Justin Braatz

I switched to ecigs 2 years ago, know how many traditional cigarettes I've had? ZERO.  I've dropped my nicotine level from when I started with ecigs by half.  Worked great for me.

Timothy Norcom
Timothy Norcom

I've experienced these things first hand with myself and girlfriend. They do not help you quit smoking. They in fact, make your cravings and nicotine habits considerably worse. The fact that you can smoke these anywhere, without the nasty feeling of cigarettes, in exotic flavors, and without a means of measuring how much was smoked (ie: I just smoked 4 cigarettes OMG!) means you are going to smoke these things all the time. You do not stop because you hit your level of fix, many factors from cigarettes that would stop you normally have been completely removed.

Twice my girlfriend has suddenly lost balance followed by loss of consciousness from nicotine poisoning with these things. Primarily to what I stated above, you can smoke and smoke and it doesn't hurt and can be done anywhere. Well, after holding onto one for 3 hours - your body is flooded with nicotine.

After realizing the spiral of nicotine addiction the e-cig created, we went back to good ole' fashioned cigarettes. The difference, I went from 5 or 6 a day to over a pack a day to fit my cravings.

There is no helping quit with these things. It's a snake oil sale. They make your addiction worse for the reasons I've stated above.

Tom Mengel
Tom Mengel

Rather one sided and it reminds me of the pot wars going on in the government since we here in Colorado have legalized it's use (another substance that has had it's effects blown way out of proportions to it's actual effects).  The real questions are the long term use to users at the levels present and will second hand smoke from these things effect other people nearby in a bad way (most especially children)?  And if so what are the actual, real dangers involved?  At present both questions need more data to be answered.  Stay tuned.

Austin C.
Austin C.

@John Kendall Pepper Seems a little extreme. Think of all the amazing, well-written articles you have read by Nat. Geo. Does it really just take one mediocre article to change your opinion entirely?

John Kendall Pepper
John Kendall Pepper

@Ayma Ratt: Good post overall, but it appears you've bought into the "Prohibitionist" Kool-Aid, prohibiting your ingestion of nicotine to anything but zero. Commendable in your own self-satisfying judgment, but doesn't address the fact that nicotine is not an especially harmful substance. From Wikipedia: "Technically, nicotine is not significantly addictive, as nicotine administered alone does not produce significant reinforcing properties.[56] However, after coadministration with an MAOI, such as those found in tobacco, nicotine produces significant behavioral sensitization, a measure of addiction potential. This is similar in effect to amphetamine.[36]" I vape now and have gotten over the more addictive effects of tobacco myself.

John Kendall Pepper
John Kendall Pepper

@Ayma Ratt: Good post overall, but your own "prohibiting" yourself from using nicotine undermines your whole argument.  You've drunk the Kool-Aid of the Prohibitionist mentality.

Michelle Rhodes
Michelle Rhodes

@David Rivera Absolutely you can! The Blu e-cig that I use offers a cartridge with no nicotine. They also come in many flavors like regular, menthol, cherry, vanilla, coffee, and chocolate.  There may be others but those are the ones I have seen. I love my Blu pack...it is the size of a pack of cigarettes, is chargable, holds 3 cartridges, has a battery charging "station," and holds one full e-cig. I am using this to quit smoking cigarettes and it has SAVED MY LIFE...probably literally! 

Ayma Ratt
Ayma Ratt

@David Rivera 

It's easy to use an e--cig w/o nicotine, or even flavorings. 

You get some pharmaceutical grade vegetable glycerin and dilute it with a bit of distilled water. It tastes a bit weird but produces big clouds of vapor and great puffing satisfaction 

This is something that the drug manufacturers and anti-nicotine lobby have never under tood. For many smokers, it's not about the nicotine.   It's about the hand to mouth, inhale and exhale, puff, puff, puff. 

Good luck. There are many good e-cig forums. Check them out before you spend any money. 

Jason Todrick
Jason Todrick

@David Rivera Absolutely you could use them in that instance. They are available with 0 nicotine, as is the eLiquid used in higher end models. check out the website: e-cigarette forum, for all the answers you could ever ask for.

Michelle Rhodes
Michelle Rhodes

@John Thompson I agree John!  I am using my Blu to quit smoking and it has been amazing.  I belive this time will actually WORK!  My Blu pack is chargable and the size of a pack of cigarettes.  I am so thankful for e-cigs and found this article smacking of government "intervention." The tobacco industry is obviously threatened by the e-cig industry...how obvious this article made that appear.  I wonder how long before tobacco companies begin marketing their own e-cigs...turning them into the next cigarette filled with all sorts of garbage. Hope everyone stays away from any future e-cig produced from a tobacco company!

Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

@George Glasser Nat Geo has been going downhill for years - all of the major publications are doing the same thing. Smithsonian is a joke also. Very little real science here and it's made to appeal to the short-attention span, soundbite-loving, sheeple.

Ayma Ratt
Ayma Ratt

@Even Steven 


It's the flavorings that KEEP PEOPLE ON THE E-CIG and not the nasty tasting cigarettes! When you have a choice of getting your nicotine fix from many many delicious flavors or one single foul tasting, foul smelling substance, which do you think  someone trying to get off tobacco is going to stick with?  You, like the "medical experts" and anti-nicotine lobby,  don't know what you're talking about, not to mention the drug companies . You've never smoked. You don't know what it's like to try NOT to smoke, You don't understand what behaviors need to be replicated to satisfy the urge to smoke or that incentives are needed to stick with the  e-cig while you're learning to vape. Those incentives are called FLAVORINGS to vaper. 

BTW, someone who uses an e-cig is called a vaper.  

After smoking for 35 years and pumping tar and more than 4000 other unknown substances into my lungs, I am willing to take the risk vaping a water based flavoring.  I'm an adult. It's legal for me to buy cigarettes but not a water based flavoring for my e-cig? You want to prohibit or regulate something because  MIGHT be bad?  I agree, no e-cigs for teen agers.  But NO ONE who has never smoked has any business telling an ADULT SMOKER  how they should get their nicotine fix. Not when cigarettes are still legal. I am an adult and I would rather take my chances on a water based flavoring than 4000 chemicals that we KNOW are bad. 

The flavorings are what made me stick it out with the ecig.  

Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

@Even Steven I use straight, unflavored, organic food-grade vegetable glycerin and nicotine base. That's it.  It's several orders of magnitude safer than the cigarettes and cigars I used to smoke.  I have experienced firsthand the health benefits of vaporizers over smoking.

Ayma Ratt
Ayma Ratt

@Timothy Norcom 

Funny, when I found I'd vaped enough nicotine, I just switched to 0 nic? Why didn't you try that? It's very simple. 

I used my e-cig to get off nicotine completely. Then I stopped using flavorings too and just vaped VG with water. 

I haven't  vaped AT ALL in over six weeks. 

I have never, ever heard of an experienced vaper who didn't realize they could just vape 0 nic to keep from ODing on nicotine. Any smoker, any vaper recognizes the pounding headache and green-around-gills feeling you get when you've had too much nicotine.  I've had that same experience with nicotine gums and patches too.   

I'm sorry sir, you don't sound at all like some one who actually knows how to vape. I question that you're a former smoker too. 

If you don't approve of nicotine or smoking, why not just be honest and say so?  I don't approve of drinking but I don't go on to a beer article and make up a story about how beer made me drunk and stupid and gave me a big gut.  

I'm sure many people who've lost love ones due to tobacco share your feelings. There's no need for you to make stuff up about trying to get off cigs or nicotine.  

Jason Todrick
Jason Todrick

@Timothy Norcom This is without a doubt the most blatantly obvious Sock-Puppet I have ever seen... You basically listed Stanton Glantz's anti-ecig ideas... even the ones that are hilariously illogical.

Coming from NC I have to wonder if this post was made at behest of Big Tobacco 

John Kendall Pepper
John Kendall Pepper

From Wikipedia: "Technically, nicotine is not significantly addictive, as nicotine administered alone does not produce significant reinforcing properties.[56] However, after coadministration with an MAOI, such as those found in tobacco, nicotine produces significant behavioral sensitization, a measure of addiction potential."

John Kendall Pepper
John Kendall Pepper

@Timothy Norcom Not even close to my experience. I swapped out my tobacco cigarettes for e-cigarettes months ago and have no desire to return to tobacco. Too bad they didn't work for you.

Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

I suspect Timothy is a Big Tobacco sock-puppet.  Somebody check his W2 and see who is paying him.  That story is completely suspect - it makes no sense and sounds like a chain of talking points from an RJ Reynolds presentation.

Galactic Stone
Galactic Stone

@Timothy Norcom This is not the fault of the vaporizer.  It's called proper dosing.  Know your limits and don't suck on the thing until you pass out, for crying out loud. Do you keep drinking beer until you vomit also?

Matt Zukowski
Matt Zukowski

@Timothy Norcom 

"They in fact, make your cravings and nicotine habits considerably worse."


This is a very odd opinion. 


"After realizing the spiral of nicotine addiction the e-cig created, we went back to good ole' fashioned cigarettes."


Okay, that's just nuts.


I'm going to somewhat agree that the delivery of e-cigarettes is slower, as such, one uses it more often to achieve the same effect.  


"Twice my girlfriend has suddenly lost balance followed by loss of consciousness "


Okay, now this is just patently silly.  Firstly nicotine has a wide range between toxic and lethal, and in the toxic range it's a powerful emetic.  Projectile vomiting always follows suit.  Without projectile vomiting I'm skeptical this story is remotely accurate.  Cigarettes delivery much more nicotine more quickly, and nicotine has such a short half life in the body that this is likely pure delusion.  


Anyone with an ounce of sanity who is actually getting too much nicotine from an e-cigarette would go for a lighter e-cigarette, or dilute their solution with vegetable glycerin.  


I'm not claiming e-cigarettes are for everyone, and those who have to have that "i'm done" signal would enjoy dripping, 2-3 drops at a time, over 1.5ml-5ml cartridges.  


"They make your addiction worse"


Pure speculation, and in defense of 50 years of evidence.  There is a max dose of effectiveness beyond which there is no effect.  We know this since slapping filters on cigarettes people smoke more.  Producing light cigarettes people smoke more.  The habit is self regulating with the user compensating to reach a certain blood/nicotine level.  If your hypothesis was true, patch users who fail to quit would be more addicted, patch and gum users would be more addicted.  


"It's a snake oil sale."


The evidence is contrary to your opinion by a factor of millions.  




Matt Zukowski
Matt Zukowski

@Tom Mengel 

Why would second hand vapor be an issue.  The bulk of the e-cigarette is food grade compounds, and we have no issues with children in kitchens where these ingredients are used.  The only other issue is nicotine which wasn't an issue for cigarettes, so why would e-cigarettes without side stream smoke present a greater risk of nicotine exposure.  


Justin Braatz
Justin Braatz

@Tom Mengel There was a recent study that showed no risk of second hand vapor.  Can't remember the link, I'm sure google could find it.

Ayma Ratt
Ayma Ratt

@Galactic Stone @George Glasser 

I agree. I finally gave up my cable t'v. There's very little intelligent to watch anymore. Same with popular magazines and books. I recently flamed Amazon on facebook for their dismal kindle daily deals offerings. 

Thanks for your great comments on this terrible article. 

National Geographic needs to stick to wildlife and anthropology articles and photography.     

Emily Farrington
Emily Farrington

So would you smoke RJR or Lorillard's e cigs currently on the market? Have you researched how many ex-big tobacco employees went to the expanding e cig market? Does a conflict of interest in that worry you?

And why attack someone whom e cigs didn't help quit smoking? Any stop smoking program doesn't work for everyone or there wouldn't be so many options on the market. Some successfully quit cold turkey but rare. Some quit for years and start back up.

Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy

@Justin Braatz @Tom Mengel I read in a recent article that about only 2% of exhaled vapor contains nicotine meaning that one's body absorbs about only 98% of it. So secondary exposure of from exhaled vapor is pretty benign then. Also, the vapors from an ecig dissipate much more quickly than smoke from a tobacco cigarette does meaning that the vapor is quickly diluted by the air in the room. making it pose even less than a hazard than tobacco smoke would.  --Scott

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