Saber Perspective: Are e-cigarettes a safe haven for smokers?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexander Zlatkin
  • 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron
Are you a current smoker? If so, you've probably heard of the newest rave in the tobacco world...the electronic cigarette or e-cigarette. E-cigarettes are often advertised as a safe option for those who use tobacco. But if you think e-cigarettes are a worry-free smoking alternative, keep may be surprised.

So, what are e-cigarettes? An e-cigarette is a small, battery operated device resembling a conventional cigarette. It works with a water based, chemical mixture (or syrup) in a small cartridge. The syrup contains nicotine, flavorings, and stabilizing chemicals that are heated by electric current creating a pleasant vapor that is inhaled by the user. Since there is no tobacco smoke emitted, the act is not referred to as smoking but rather "vaping."

The media has sensationalized e-cigarettes and a number of celebrities have endorsed e-cigarette companies. Talk show host Jenny McCarthy is often seen on her show smoking her Blu e-cigarette. Actor Stephen Dorff, another Blu spokesperson has implied that e-cigarettes remove guilt associated with "lighting up" and give smokers their freedom back. On Super Bowl Sunday 2013, an NJOY e-cigarette ad seen by 10 million viewers declared, "Finally, smokers have a real alternative. Cigarettes, you've met your match."

So are e-cigarettes really a safer alternative? Although some studies may suggest it, there isn't enough long term data to say whether e-cigarettes are in fact a "lesser evil" compared to conventional tobacco products. The evidence that exists is limited and contested. While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they are still nicotine addiction systems and the syrup contains other potentially hazardous poisons including nitrosamines, diethylene glycol, and animal carcinogens. There may also be second-order consequences of getting more people addicted to nicotine via e-cigarettes, such as the risk that the addiction will lead to use of other tobacco products later on.

Airmen considering using e-cigarettes should also keep in mind the Air Force's stance on these products. AFI 40-102, Tobacco Use, explicitly includes e-cigarettes under the definition of a tobacco product and subjects e-cigarettes to all the same restrictions that exist for conventional cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco on an AF installation. That means e-cigarettes cannot be used inside AF buildings or vehicles. They can only be used in designated smoking rooms in base lodging and cannot be used outside of base Designated Tobacco Areas (DTAs).

If you are considering trying e-cigarettes, you may want to think twice. If you already smoke, and are looking for a safer alternative, consider quitting tobacco altogether. The Health & Wellness Center has a comprehensive program to help you regain control, feel great, and start an addiction-free life. Give us a call at 452-7385 or email us at to sign up for a class or an individualized consultation. You'll be happy you did. There's never been an easier time to quit.