How Electronic Cigarettes Could Affect Allergies and Asthma

e-Cigarettes, Allergies and Asthma

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 What are e-Cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes, or e-Cigarettes, have become extremely popular in recent years, with young people being the most common age group to try this new type of nicotine delivery device. e-Cigarettes are an electronic method of in which a water based liquid, containing nicotine and various kinds of flavorings, is vaporized and inhaled. The device contains a liquid cartridge containing the flavored nicotine, a heating device that turns the liquid into a vapor, and a battery.

Many of the e-Cigarettes available in the United States are disposable, and are designed to last about as long as 2 packs of traditional cigarettes. Other types of e-Cigarettes are rechargeable using a USB port.

Are There Benefits to e-Cigarettes?

There are many aspects to e-Cigarettes that are not known. First, it is unclear how effective they are at delivering nicotine. Most of the nicotine present in the water vapor is likely to be exhaled, although some is absorbed through the lungs and through the mucus membranes in the mouth. More studies are needed to assess how e-Cigarettes affect the delivery of nicotine to the body. Next, it isn’t clear if there is any benefit to the use of e-Cigarettes as a potential way to help a person quit smoking. Studies haven’t shown the use of e-Cigarettes is a better way of quitting smoking compared to a nicotine replacement patch or even placebo. However, many cigarette smokers report that they try e-Cigarettes as a way to attempt to quit smoking.

Lastly, e-Cigarettes may represent a safer way to use nicotine than traditional cigarettes. Multiple studies have shown that for people who smoke, the use of e-Cigarettes reduces the actual number of real cigarettes smoked.

Do e-Cigarettes Cause Harm?

The increased use of e-Cigarettes among young people is of great concern to many public health experts.

e-Cigarettes deliver nicotine, which is an addictive drug that causes other health problems such as heart disease. In addition to nicotine, e-Cigarettes can release cancer-causing agents such as nitrosamines and diethylene glycol, an ingredient commonly found in car antifreeze. Other impurities, including metals and silicate, have also been found in the vapor released by e-Cigarettes.

The mass marketing of e-Cigarettes as a “safe” alternative to smoking is also a concern. The manufacturers of e-Cigarettes are targeting teenagers and young adults through advertisements that are reminiscent of tobacco ads decades ago. Suddenly, “smoking” e-Cigarettes is hip and cool. These advertisements certainly have been effective, as one study showed that twice as many middle school and high school children tried e-Cigarettes in 2012 compared with 2011 – just one year earlier.  The flavorings found in various brands of e-Cigarettes are clearly targeted at children and young adults, with flavors such as chocolate, peppermint, piña colada and many others.

The biggest concern regarding the increased use of e-Cigarettes by young people is that this will lead to the eventual use of real cigarettes.

How e-Cigarettes Might Affect Allergies and Asthma

Certainly, e-Cigarettes aren’t nearly as dangerous for the person with allergies and asthma compared to the harmful effects of real cigarettes. However, the dangers of e-Cigarettes on allergies and asthma cannot be fully dismissed. Impurities found in e-Cigarettes could trigger an asthma attack or worsen nasal allergy symptoms, either by the person using the e-Cigarettes or even from a person exposed to the “second hand” vapor emitted from the device.

While the true effects of the increased use of e-Cigarettes is not fully known, it is important for people to realize that these are not a completely safe alternative to smoking real cigarettes.


Nickels AS, Joshi AY, Dinakar C. Electronic Cigarettes: Navigating the Vapor. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014;112:481-483.

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