Even if using e-cigarettes to stop smoking worked, there's no evidence that it's safe

E-cigarettes and vape pens can contain 'thousands' of chemicals not disclosed by the manufacturers, including the potentially hazardous tributylphosphine oxide.

Emma Jones 3 minute read November 10, 2021

According to research, people who used e-cigarettes were more likely to try quitting again a few months after they relapsed. GETTY

A promising anti-smoking aid may not be all it’s hyped up to be, as recent research has shown that e-cigarettes aren’t the most effective or safest method of quitting smoking. 

Among modern methods of quitting, e-cigarettes have received a considerable amount of attention. The vape pens contain flavoured liquid, often supplemented with nicotine, that is heated up and turned into an aerosol by the device.  

Proponents of e-cigarettes previously said that they are a useful tool to quit smoking, since smokers can simply switch from a cigarette to the device without having to change habits, like taking a smoke break. However, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October indicates that e-cigarettes aren’t very effective for quitting smoking long-term. 

“Quitting is the most important thing a smoker can do to improve their health, but the evidence indicates that switching to e-cigarettes made it less likely, not more likely, to stay off of cigarettes,” John P. Pierce, Ph.D., Professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, explains in a press release. 

The researchers identified 1228 adults through the US Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study who had recently quit smoking and compared those who indicated they used e-cigarettes as a quitting tool, switched to other tobacco products (like cigars, cigarillos, pipes, hookahs, and smokeless products), or used non-tobacco products. Once controlling for other variables that influence quit rates, like socio-economic status and tobacco dependency, the researchers found that overall, individuals who switched to any other form of tobacco-based product (including e-cigarettes) were more likely to relapse than those who stayed away from tobacco. 

This data contrasts with a statement made by the FDA, which claimed the product could be a useful smoking cessation aid. 

“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavoured products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products — either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption — by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a press release when the FDA announced they were allowing the marketing of e-cigarettes in the US. 

Individuals who used e-cigarettes were more likely to try quitting again a few months after they relapsed, so the researchers recommend a longer study to determine if they may be more successful on their next attempt. 

Even if e-cigarettes did help smokers give up their menthols for good, there’s no research to indicate that the aerosol users are inhaling into their lungs is safe. E-cigarettes and vape pens can contain “thousands” of chemicals not disclosed by the manufacturers, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University. Some of the substances found, like tributylphosphine oxide, are known to be potentially hazardous if inhaled.  

“I have a problem with how vaping is being marketed as more healthy than smoking cigarettes,” says Carsten Prasse, assistant professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University. “In my opinion, we are just not at the point when we can really say that.”