E-cigarettes: What Does the Science Say?


Electronic cigarettes have become very popular over the last few years. Five percent of U.S. adults currently use e-cigarettes. The largest increases in use are seen in adolescents. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20.8 percent of high school students use these devices. 

An increase in e-cigarette popularity is also observed in active duty populations. In the Air Force, e-cigarette use increased from 4.3 percent in 2017 to 5.4 percent in 2018. Kirtland is no exception to this trend with a 4.6 percent use in 2017 increased to 6.7 percent use in 2018. Some squadrons at Kirtland have e-cigarette usage rates of greater than 15 percent.

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug comparable to cocaine or heroin. That is the main reason users find it so hard to quit. We also know that genetics play a role. Individuals who rapidly metabolize nicotine find it much harder to quit than individuals who metabolize nicotine slowly. Nicotine has a variety of negative health effects. These include increases in blood pressure and heart rate, plus an increased risk of heart failure, heart attack and stroke. In addition, nicotine increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes, erectile dysfunction and may increase the risk of heart disease.

Studies have shown that when subjects use nicotine-free e-cigarettes, the same negative cardiovascular effects observed when nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are used did not occur. Electronic cigarettes produce some of the same toxic compounds recorded in regular cigarettes.

However, the amounts produced are far smaller than seen in regular cigarettes and it is unclear whether inhalation of such low levels is associated with increased health risk.

Two studies have examined the effects of smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who switched to e-cigarettes. In both studies, COPD exacerbation rates significantly declined when the subjects switched to e-cigarettes. Though rare, there have been two documented cases of death associated with use of e-cigarettes. In both cases, death was the result of lithium batteries that exploded, which sprayed the victims with shrapnel. 

A big question that people want to know is, “Can the use of e-cigarettes help regular smokers quit?” Studies have produced mixed results. For example, two studies found that e-cigarettes did not appear to improve quit rates in smokers, whereas a third study did find positive associations between e-cigarette use and quit rates of regular cigarettes.

A recent study provides the clearest picture to date on this question. The study consisted of 886 subjects, and lasted for one year.

One group used e-cigarettes and the other group used a variety of nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum, lozenges and nasal sprays. Both groups also regularly attended behavioral counseling sessions. Among subjects who were tobacco-free at the end of one year, the abstinence rate for e-cigarette users was 18 percent, significantly higher than the nicotine replacement group at 9.9 percent.

In adults, the research to date suggests the negative health effects of e-cigarette use are primarily associated with nicotine, and not with the devices themselves. E-cigarettes can be used as a smoking cessation tool, though many individuals continue to use e-cigarettes after quitting regular cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes are not completely safe but do appear to be significantly less toxic than regular cigarettes and could be an option for reducing harm. Regardless, the healthiest option is still to quit nicotine delivery products of any kind.

If you would like more information, or are interested in quitting, contact Health Promotion Flight at 846-1186.

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.