Are you a non-smoker if you use e-cigarettes?
A spate of recent studies is sparking debate over whether electronic cigarettes are helping smokers quit or ushering a new generation into nicotine addiction.
These battery-powered devices, called e-cigarettes, basically turn a liquid form of flavored nicotine into a vapor that you inhale, so there is no burning or smoke in the process.
Some researchers believe e-cigarettes are more healthy than smoking tobacco because you're not inhaling toxic smoke that results when cigarettes burn. E-cigarettes, they say, can help people kick the habit, acting like a nicotine patch delivering the fix without the associated harmful chemicals that cause cancer. A recent study in the British journal Lancet suggests that e-cigarettes may be more effective than nicotine patches in helping smokers kick the habit.
But critics are concerned about the uptick in use of e-cigarettes among teens. The fear is that e-cigarettes, which come in flavors such as "cookies and cream" and "gummy bear," could act as a gateway to cigarettes and eventual tobacco addiction. Youth e-cigarette use doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Key findings of the National Youth Tobacco Survey show:
- The percentage of high school students who reported ever using e-cigarettes jumped from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012.
- The percentage of high school kids using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days rose from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent.
- Use also doubled among middle school students.
- The CDC estimated that 1.78 million U.S. youth used e-cigarettes in 2012.
Teens aren't the only ones experimenting with e-cigarettes, though which is also alarming critics. In 2011, about 21 percent of adults who smoke traditional cigarettes had used them, up from about 10 percent in 2010, according to a CDC study. Overall, about 6 percent of all adults have tried e-cigarettes, with estimates nearly doubling from 2010.
"If large numbers of adult smokers become users of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes — rather than using e-cigarettes to quit cigarettes completely — the net public health effect could be quite negative," Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at CDC, said in a statement.
E-cigarettes and life insurance
If you are shopping for a life insurance policy and use e-cigarettes, your insurer will likely classify you as a nicotine user, which means you will pay significantly higher rates—in some cases up to double the amount.
However, each life insurance company uses different underwriting rules, so it's wise to have a knowledgeable agent help you research insurers to be sure you get the best rates for your individual situation. Look for an independent agent who sells policies from a variety of insurers and who has experience working with clients who smoke.
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's.
Follow him on Twitter @destoups