E-cigarettes: Are They Safe?

May 01, 2014
Lebanon, NH

Dartmouth Researchers Look at What We Know about E-cigarettes and Health

Smokers are turning to e-cigarettes to ease nicotine withdrawal while quitting, to vape in places where smoking is not allowed, and to avoid harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. Young people are also trying these new devices, some to switch from smoking and others to see what it is all about.

In spite of increased use, we don't yet know whether smokeless vapor is safe: in fact, any long-term health risks from using e-cigarettes and other "vaping" devices will likely not be known for many years. The Food and Drug Administration recently proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes that will require health warnings for e-cigarettes and limit sales to those over 18, however it did not limit flavorings or advertising of e-cigarettes.

In a recently issued Emerging Issues Brief researchers at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) looked at what is currently known about e-cigarettes and health. Some believe e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking tobacco since e-cigarette vapor doesn't contain the chemicals found in tobacco smoke. However, many would-be quitters end up using e-cigarettes in public spaces and regular cigarettes everywhere else.

"In theory, the exclusive use of e-cigarettes should be safer than smoking," says co-author Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, Norris Cotton Cancer Center Cancer Control Research Group, and associate professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine. "But these theoretical benefits are for smokers who use e-cigarettes to completely quit all products that burn tobacco—cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and pipes. Anyone who uses e-cigarettes and continues to use these other products is unlikely to sufficiently lower their risk of heart attack, cancer, or chronic lung disease."

Tanski also notes that there are other forms of medicinal nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that have been used for 17 years to help smokers quit. "Used correctly, we know that these products help people successfully quit tobacco, "she says. "Until we know more about e-cigarettes, these medicinal NRT products, combined with help from quit counselors or friends and family who have quit, can help you become a non-smoker without tackling the remaining questions of e-cigarette safety."

Each year New Hampshire Cancer Center Collaboration, in partnership with NCCC at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, produces four short briefs that look at emerging issues pertaining to cancer. These overviews, written for the general public, are prepared by researchers and physicians at the NCCC. Recent briefs addressed Overdiagnosis, Lung Cancer Screening, Clinical Trials, and Radon and Cancer.

"E-cigarettes and Health" and past Emerging Issues Briefs are available as printable pdfs on the NH CCC website,

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock

Norris Cotton Cancer Center combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth with patient-centered cancer care provided at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock regional locations in Manchester, Nashua, and Keene, NH, and St. Johnsbury, VT, and at 12 partner hospitals throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. It is one of 41 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute's "Comprehensive Cancer Center" designation. Learn more about Norris Cotton Cancer Center research, programs, and clinical trials, online at

About The New Hampshire Comprehensive Cancer Collaboration

The New Hampshire Comprehensive Cancer Collaboration (NH CCC) was established in 2004 to address one of the leading causes of death in New Hampshire.  The NH CCC is a dedicated partnership of individuals and organizations committed to eliminating cancer in the state. The NH CCC developed the New Hampshire Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan to address the following priorities: preventing cancer by creating environments that support a healthy life style;  increasing early detection of cancer through screening; improving the treatment of cancer and quality of life for people living with cancer; and reporting on the latest cancer research. For more information about the NH CCC and the NH Cancer Plan, visit

Back to News