Last spring a young woman came to our East Setauket office for dental care and – as I always do – I asked about her smoking history. Smoking is strongly correlated with gum disease, loss of teeth, and oral cancer – so smoking history is a question I always ask. She answered that she smoked electronic cigarettes. The electronic cigarette? What was that? I had never heard of it!
After that incident I read up on the device. Electronic cigarettes satisfy the nicotine addiction but without inhaling the toxic chemicals that are found in tobacco smoke. The e-cigarette turns liquid nicotine into a vapor which is inhaled by the individual. The liquid comes in many flavors, such as mint or bubble gum, pina colada or peach. But unlike skin patches and nicotine gum, these e-cigarettes have not been evaluated for effectiveness or for safety. Nevertheless sales of e-cigarettes have been on the increase in the U.S. and in Europe. European Union regulators are planning to regulate the device with greater vigor, starting in 2016.
E-cigarettes might be safer than inhaling tobacco smoke – a known carcinogen. But there are still risks. Nicotine is addictive and there are quality control problems at e-cigarette manufacturers. There is also the concern among health officials that youngsters may begin with e-cigarettes and then progress to regular cigarettes. The FDA needs to step up its regulation of e-cigarettes by considering a ban on flavorings that appeal to youngsters and a ban on sales and marketing to minors. The electronic cigarette manufacturer, Lorillard Technologies, placed an ad in Sports Illustrated with a warning that “these are not a smoking cessation product and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, nor are they intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.” Another ad stated “WARNING: This product can cause mouth cancer.”
We need studies on the correlation of e-cigarettes and gum disease. Let’s not replace one unhealthy habit with another.