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No butts about it

Researchers say e-cigarettes pose potential hazards as well as benefits


By Katrina Burton

E-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that provide inhaled doses of nicotine vapors and flavorings, have ignited heated debate over the trendy products’ possible pros and cons.

They’re promoted as a possible aid in getting people to stop smoking and thereby reducing lung cancer risk. MD Anderson’s Paul Cinciripini, Ph.D., director of the Tobacco Treatment Program, and Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Tobacco Outreach Education Program, caution that more research is needed to understand e-cigarettes’ potential benefits or liabilities.

 Paul Cinciripini, Ph.D.

A good gadget or a gateway gizmo?

“Independent studies must rigorously investigate e-cigarettes, as there’s considerable potential benefit if these products are regulated and their safety is ensured,” says Cinciripini. “Promoting e-cigarettes already on the shelves as ‘safe’ is misleading. If looked at as a harmless alternative to cigarettes, e-cigarettes could lead to a new generation of smokers more likely to become tobacco dependent.”


Consider this:

 Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D.

  • E-cigarettes are unregulated, and there’s little research on their safety or effectiveness as smoking cessation tools.
    “These products aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration,” says Prokhorov. “One analysis shows nicotine levels to vary widely.”
  • Switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes could help smokers avoid approximately 6,000 chemicals, some of which are human carcinogens.
    “Reduced exposure to harmful chemicals warrants research of these products as a smoking cessation vehicle,” says Cinciripini. “Unbiased studies are needed.”
  • Branded as “safer,” available in a variety of colors and flavors and promoted by celebrities, e-cigarettes could be a hook for future smokers.
    “E-cigarettes are a novel way to introduce tobacco smoking to young people, and their potential ‘gateway’ role should be a concern for parents and health officials,” says Prokhorov.

 VIDEO: Click the image to watch MD Anderson smoking prevention experts tackle the e-cigarette debate.

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