“Smoking steam instead of tobacco, are the E-cigarettes a safer alternative?”

Vaping 2019__

(Davide Ragusa, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Marc Albiol i Perarnau, a 22-year-old medical student who is completing his 5th year at the of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain). He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


The e-cigarette is a fairly recent reality. But in recent years, in several countries the commercialization of this product has grown rapidly, doubling or tripling the number of users every year especially among the young population. Despite the popularity of these devices and the alternative that it is to tobacco, there are still many doubts between consumers and health professionals.

What are you smoking when using an e-cigarette? The rechargeable liquid contains nicotine (usually between 6 and 24 mg), propylene glycol (used in drugs in the form of nebulizers or inhalers) and additives that give different flavors. However, due to the lack of regulation and quality controls, the composition may vary between different brands and within the same brand, containing other toxic substances that do not appear in the labeling.

But are electronic cigarettes truly effective to help giving up smoking? Are they safer? This is where science goes in. The effectiveness of e-cigarettes for quitting smoking has not been scientifically proven. There are no controlled clinical trials on the effectiveness of these devices or to stop smoking or as a reduction strategy for damages. On the other hand, it is true that some preliminary studies seem to indicate that this product is useful to alleviate the desire to smoke, mainly because the inhalation of hot steam gives a feeling similar to that of tobacco smoke, along with the effect of the nicotine that contains the smoking liquid, but it does not mean that e-cigarettes are healthier than tobacco (or even less harmful).

Although there are no studies that demonstrate the safety in the consumption of e-cigarettes especially in their long-term use, the publication of studies on this matter is recent but of fast and continuous growth. The main possible side effects are described to be similar to those of tobacco, including dry mouth and irritation of the mouth and throat due to the irritant effect of propylene glycol when inhaled. It is also necessary to take into account the contraindications typical of nicotine (children, pregnancy, breastfeeding, cardiovascular or respiratory pathology…). Preliminary studies show that e-cigarettes are less toxic than conventional ones because they do not generate tobacco smoke but steam. The common belief is that their use is innocuous, but so far there are no studies that demonstrate the safety of these devices and there are no studies on the potential effects of exhaled passive exposure to steam neither.

To sum up, e-cigarettes are not considered drugs to stop smoking or reduce tobacco damages. Therefore, public health care can not recommend their use in the same way as with alternative therapies have not proven their efficacy and safety and their use is prohibited in the same way and areas as tobacco. So, if you want to stop smoking and you are thinking about using an e-cigarette, maybe you should first try changes in lifestyle habits or consult your doctor so that you may receive the indicated and effectively demonstrated medications and methods.

About the author

Marc Albiol i Perarnau is a 22-year-old medical student who is completing his 5th year at the of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain). During the entire university stage, he has been an active member of the Catalonian association of health science students, federated in IFMSA. He is currently working with the Smoke-Free and Anti-Tobacco Committee of Sant Pau’s Hospital to be the representative of the medical students of the faculty.

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