Newsletter Article

The Dangers of Cigarette Alternatives

The health risks associated with cigarette use are extremely well-documented. Many countries have begun using graphic image labels on their tobacco products, and as health risk awareness surrounding tobacco products increases, some companies have started offering alternative, ‘healthier’ smoking options. Many of these tobacco alternatives come in colorful packaging and in a variety of sweet flavors, including cherry, vanilla, root beer, and chocolate.[1] They are often lower in cost when compared to cigarettes.

Herbal cigarettes are tobacco-free and nicotine-free, making them legal to sell to smokers of any age. They contain a variety of different plants and herbs, some of which may even have health benefits if consumed. However they produce many of the same toxins of a tobacco cigarette when smoked. Another variation are small, hand-rolled cigarettes called Bidis. These come in a variety of flavors and are wrapped in dried tendu leaf. Tendu leaves do not burn as easily as paper, which causes the smoker to inhale deeper and more often compared to a cigarette just to keep it lit. Users may actually be inhaling 2 to 3 times more tar and nicotine than a regular cigarette.

Clove cigarettes, or kreteks, are now illegal in the US but still widely available internationally. Other variations that are considered cigars, containing a blend of tobacco and ground cloves, are still sold in the US. Cloves do not pose a threat when ingested, but they produce dangerous chemicals when burnt. These type of cigarettes also contain a very high amount of tar and nicotine.

One of the fastest growing smoking alternative is e-cigarettes. “E-cigs” use a battery-operated device that heats a liquid of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals, producing a vapor that is inhaled.[3] Although this method eliminates the toxins produced by burning tobacco, it is not considered a safe option. E-cigarettes are a relatively new product, so there is a lack of research on their long-term health effects. A recent study surveyed high-school students’ e-cigarette and cigarette use.[4] The results showed that 17% admitted to using e-cigarettes only. This is one of the highest percentages seen in US adolescent samples. E-cigarettes could be used to recruit medium-risk adolescents who would normally be less susceptible to tobacco product use.

There may be a lot of alternative options to cigarettes, but there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ option. Any substance that is smoked is likely to pose health risks.