Well, it’s kind of like wondering if it’s safe to get into a car whose seat belts are sort of beat. Compared to getting into a different car that has better seat belts? Nope. But compared to getting into a car that has no seat belts at all? Yes!
Smoking cigarettes is like your body hitting the windshield at 70 miles an hour, and using e-cigarettes is like your body behind the so-so seat belts. In other words, e-cigarettes aren’t completely safe, but they are much safer than smoking.
E-cigarettes are part of the same product “class” as nicotine replacement, such as the nicotine patch, gum, spray, or inhaler. (Reputable manufacturers even buy their nicotine and chemicals from the same places that pharmaceutical companies do.) The main difference is that e-cigarettes are not regulated. So unlike using a nicotine inhaler, you can’t be entirely sure if you’re getting the same thing you would from a pharmaceutical product.
So in the end, the real question is, “Compared to cigarettes, or compared to nicotine replacement, how safe are e-cigarettes?” Conservatively, e-cigarettes are estimated to cause about 1/20th of the harm of a cigarette, and be about twice as risky as using the nicotine patch or gum.
At QuitNet, we support everyone who wants to stop smoking cigarettes, regardless of how they want to do it. If you have your choice, using a pharmaceutical source of clean nicotine (like the patch, gum, lozenge, nasal spray, or inhaler) is safer and more reliable, but an e-cigarette is far, far better than smoking.
By the way … unlike e-cigarettes, NRT is usually covered without a co-pay by insurance (in other words, it’s free). You can use the QuitNet NRT Navigator to figure out how to get your insurer to cover the costs.
Medical review: Nathan Cobb, MD, September 12, 2017
Nutt DJ, Phillips LD, Balfour D, Curran HV, Dockrell M, Foulds J, et al. Estimating the harms of nicotine-containing products using the MCDA approach. Eur Addict Res 2014;20(5):218-225.