Smoking tobacco is bad for us. We know that. Yet more than 40 million Americans continue to smoke cigarettes. Smoking has been proven to be nondiscriminatory; it causes damage to every organ in your body. About one out of five deaths in the U.S. each year can be correlated directly to smoking-related illnesses.
When asked, the majority of smokers will admit that they’d like to quit, with close to 40 percent reporting they’ve tried to quit at some point over the past year. Concerned government agencies have tried to curb the smoking habits of the U.S. population by increasing federal cigarette taxes. That price hike in 2009 resulted in a 10 percent decrease in overall sales of cigarettes. But, a hit to the pocket book isn’t the only thing that has put a dent in cigarette sales. Enter the electronic cigarettes, called e-cigarettes, or e-cigs
Those lobbying for the production and sale of e-cigarettes argue that this can help put a dent in smoking, because e-cigs allow a smoker to wean off his or her nicotine addiction. They argue that e-cigarettes allow the inhalation of nicotine without the destructive tar that accompanies traditional tobacco smoking. Public health officials, however, counter that the devices may actually encourage nonsmokers, especially young people, to begin smoking conventional cigarettes.
Around and around they go, leaving consumers to do our own research on the subject in order to make our own decision on e-cigarettes.
What Are e-Cigarettes?
The name given these electronic cigarettes makes the product sound like it’s some sort of high-tech gizmo that lets you smoke like a citizen of the 21st century. They are also fashionably referred to as a personal vaporizer, hookah pens or vape pens. The formal name is actually Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems or ENDS. Names can be deceiving, however.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that closely resemble a traditional cigarette or pen. Some have a little different look, especially those with a refillable tank. There are numerous brands, all with slightly different looks. What most have in common is that they tend to be marketed as a way for you to get a nicotine fix without the known dangers of traditional cigarettes.
The workings of all e-cigarettes are basically the same. Inside there are containers filled with a variety of nicotine, flavors and other chemicals. There’s a small heating device that heats the liquid to the point of vaporization. Some of the tips on electronic cigarettes even have a little light that mimics the burning ash of a regular cigarette. When you take a drag, you’re inhaling this vapor. Thus, puffing on an e-cigarette is commonly called “vaping.”
Smoking Without Actually Smoking
Many will tout the superior nature of e-cigarettes because vaping seems to allow you to smoke without actually smoking. E-cigarettes don’t utilize tobacco, ergo dragging on an e-cig isn’t smoking in the traditional sense of the word. While e-cigarettes are tobacco-free, and thus smoke-free, they are not nicotine- and chemical-free. This is an important distinction which is often overlooked.
The vapor inhaled is laced with nicotine in differing amounts, depending on the brand. There are products available that contain amounts of nicotine comparable to traditional tobacco cigarettes. You can get e-cigs with nicotine amounts more in line with a light or ultralight cigarette, or for those who want to kick their nicotine habit, some refill cartridges provide a flavored vapor with no nicotine. These are marketed as giving the user the sensory experience similar to smoking a cigarette without risking the harmful effects.
When first developed, the early version of e-cigs didn’t produce the same “rush” of nicotine that smoking a traditional tobacco cigarette does. To counter this, a second-generation vaping technology was developed. This version allows a user to dial-up an e-cigarette’s voltage, raising the temperature inside the unit. This, in turn, atomizes more nicotine into the vapor so the user is getting more of a bang per puff.
What’s All the Fuss About?
Some may wonder, what’s the big deal about e-cigarettes? We’ve all been bombarded by campaign after campaign to get Americans to give up their cigarettes. If smokers are switching to these smokeless cigarettes, mission accomplished, right? Not necessarily.
More young people are now jumping into the vaping craze. Adolescents are using more e-cigs now, when compared to any other tobacco product, and that includes traditional cigarettes. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed the use of e-cigs among young people from 2013 to 2014.
During that time, the CDC found that the use of e-cigarettes among middle school and high school students tripled. Among high school students, use of e-cigs on at least one day during a 30-day period increased from 4.5 percent, through 2013, to a staggering 13.4 percent in 2014. That may not seem like a lot, but when you do the math, that 13.4 percent equates to approximately 660,000 students out of 2 million.
Still wondering what the fuss is all about? Consider this: That’s well over half a million in a new generation of young people who are becoming addicted to nicotine, in just one year.
A full 90 percent of those who smoke traditional cigarettes start before the age of 19. That means these young people are becoming addicted to nicotine early in their lives. About 75 percent of teen smokers continue the habit into adulthood. Adolescence is a crucial period for brain development. When a teen becomes addicted to nicotine, it is harder for that adult later in life to kick the habit.
Alarmingly, there is also data now to suggest that e-cigarette vapors can make already dangerous bacteria even harder to kill. In a study conducted by a pulmonary and critical care physician in the Veterans Affairs San Diego Health Care System, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a particularly nasty germ, was exposed to e-cigarette vapors. It was discovered that exposure to the vapor made these antibiotic-resistant bacteria even harder to kill.
Too Good to Be True
We’ve all been warned at one time or another: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. This precautionary motto could be applicable to e-cigarettes and vaping. Those who proclaim that vaping is free from the detrimental effects of traditional smoking are not exactly accurate.
Most e-cigs contain the chemical liquid nicotine, which is a well-documented addictive substance. Nicotine is known to exacerbate heart problems and may cause damage to your arteries. Discontinuing use of nicotine can throw you into withdrawal, which can leave you feeling nervous, agitated and depressed. Some people can become physically ill, with headaches, nausea and vomiting.
The fact remains that pulling anything into your lungs, other than the natural air we all breathe, is risky. With e-cigs, you do not know what exactly is in that vapor you’re inhaling into your lungs.
Vaping puts chemicals in direct contact with your lungs and bloodstream. Chemicals like liquid nicotine can be lethal in doses as small as a tablespoon. Certain e-cig devices may release metals, such as tin, into the vapor they produce. Some samples of the liquids in the cartridges of e-cigs were found to contain toxic chemicals like diethylene glycol, a substance used in antifreeze. Other impurities in the vapor can contain chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic.
More than Just Nicotine
A testing program by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found some e-cig cartridges available on the market are incorrectly labeled with the amount of nicotine found in the vapor when used. Even in the cartridges sold as nicotine-free, testing indicated you may still be getting a low dose of nicotine.
Concerns about the chemicals in e-cigarette vapor don’t stop at the nicotine content. Some brands of e-cigs have been found to contain known cancer-causing chemical formaldehyde, which is often used in building materials.
There are also concerns over the artificial flavors added to the e-cig cartridges. A popular ingredient is a buttery-tasking chemical known as diacetyl. It is a common additive to foods like popcorn. The problem arises when this chemical is inhaled. It can cause a lung disease known as popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans). This condition was first recognized in employees who worked in factories that make microwave popcorn. The disease was linked to their inhalation of artificial butter flavorings.
The vapor produced by e-cigarettes also delivers high levels of nanoparticles to the user. These particles can produce an inflammatory response in the body and have been linked to such diseases as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
E-cigarettes can be especially hazardous to young children. Parents will often decide to cut down on traditional cigarette use or quit smoking completely to protect their children from second hand smoke, and many turn to the use of e-cigarettes as the way to do this.
What they don’t realize is that nicotine poisoning in young children can be fatal, and safety laws have not yet caught up with E-cigarettes. The refill cartridges that contain the liquid nicotine, or e-liquid, may not have childproof packaging. In 2014, the CDC reported over 200 reports of e-cigarettes having an adverse effect on someone. More than half of those suffering negative effects from liquid nicotine exposure were young children.
Most of the hazards associated with vaping are focused on the health concerns presented by inhaling nicotine. Researchers will freely admit that more investigation needs to be done. In the meantime, however, the availability of e-cigarettes is staggering. More than 7,000 varieties of flavored e-cigs and refill liquid cartridges are currently available in retail outlets across the U.S. and via online sources.
Regulation of e-cigarette devices is minimal, meaning manufacturers are free to market their products as they see fit. E-cigarettes are marketed to teens and adults alike as cigarettes that can be smoked anywhere. Vaping is portrayed as a form of tobacco-less smoking with no associated health risks. Marketers use young, hip celebrities to market their e-cigarettes in a bid to make them seem glamorous and cool.
E-cigs are promoted as better smelling than regular cigarettes and much cheaper to purchase. They’re also touted as a “guilt-free” way to smoke. The teen market is targeted with products designed to appeal to them specifically, offering up such “fun” flavors as fruit, candy and popular desserts. You can find e-cigs in flavors as “Gummi Bear,” “Belgian waffle,” cotton candy, bubble gum and chocolate.
Some U.S. cities have moved to ban or restrict the use of electric cigarettes in public venues. There are currently 44 states with some limits imposed on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
The majority of e-cigarettes sold in the U.S. are made in China. These are sold online, as well as through retail stores. The quality of these products is variable, which makes it more difficult to pinpoint the health problems associated with them.
Because the design of e-cigarettes creates heat, there is also the possibility of injury when using one. There are reports of taste buds on the tongue turning black, a scorched feeling to the mouth and of the device “blowing up” while the user is inhaling.
The best way to combat the dangers of vaping is knowledge. Ask your healthcare provider for information on the negative effects of tobacco smoking and vaping. They can help you with information on how to kick your nicotine habit for good.