Electronic cigarettes have grown in popularity over recent years, and a number of stores around Australia now sell these devices. E-cigarettes are increasingly popular with smokers who use the device to help ease the process of kicking the habit. Many people believe that these devices are safer or healthier than conventional cigarettes, but some experts—particularly dentists—are now concerned that e-cigarettes are as harmful as traditional smokes. Find out how e-cigarettes work, and why some experts believe they could set smokers up for an unexpectedly unhealthy future.

How the devices work

Smokers use e-cigarettes in much the same way as a conventional cigarette. A user inhales vapour through a cartridge filled with synthetic nicotine or another flavour dissolved in an e-liquid. This process does not produce smoke, but creates vapour that has some of the properties that smokers enjoy in a normal cigarette. As the device doesn't emit any smoke, people around the user are largely unaware that somebody is using the e-cigarette.

Why use e-cigarettes

Users believe that e-cigarettes don't contain all the same harmful chemicals that you will find in a normal cigarette. By using the device, smokers mimic the habit of smoking, which can help them cope with the behavioural challenges of quitting. The devices create no butts, and, overall, an e-cigarette helps save money.

Potential health risks

One of the biggest problems with e-cigarettes is that the devices are relatively new to the market. As such, experts don't really understand the long-term health effects from smoking in this way.

Dentists warn that the chemicals in e-cigarettes can still cause serious problems. The liquid solution inside the device may include vegetable glycerine, acetaldehyde or propylene glycol, all of which are potentially carcinogenic. By inhaling concentrated doses of these chemical through the mouth, users may increase the risk of oral cancer.

Also, while e-cigarettes don't contain tobacco, users still inhale nicotine. Studies show that it is the nicotine in tobacco that greatly increases the risk of serious dental problems, including periodontal disease. As such, if you choose to use e-cigarettes, the risk from nicotine still remains high. In fact, the risk can potentially increase because the nicotine concentration in e-cigarette vapour is higher than a normal smoke.

Advice for smokers

Researchers at the College of Dentistry in New York carried out research to learn about the effects of e-cigarettes on health in 2013. The research found that users were at higher risk from nicotine and other toxins because they puff more often and inhale the vapour more deeply than conventional smokers. Further research is underway.

Another challenge with e-cigarettes is the lack of regulation. While you still need a permit to sell e-cigarettes (due to the nicotine content), any company can manufacture the devices. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia does not yet approve e-cigarettes as a safe, effective way to quit smoking. As such, the TGA advises smokers who want to give up to use patches, gums, lozenges and other devices that they approve.

E-cigarettes are an interesting invention, but they may not offer the benefits you expect. If you're concerned about your oral health, dentists recommend that you avoid all nicotine products, including e-cigarettes. For more information, contact a dentist like Michael Urwand.