By Stephanie Thomas
When you went out for a sit-down dinner 10 or 20 years ago, you prepared to answer two standard questions:
- How many people are in your party?
- Do you prefer smoking or non-smoking?
Nowadays, many counties and even entire states ban smoking in restaurants. In place of separated seating, you’ll find non-smokers and smokers alike dining together in a smoke-free atmosphere.
But something else changed too.
With the invention of electronic cigarettes, users can inhale and exhale nicotine anywhere they like — with no offputting smells or concerns about second-hand inhalation. Sounds like a win all the way around right?
If you’re considering e-cigarettes — or already using them — you might be better off taking a look at the facts below before moving forward.
What Are E-Cigarettes?
You might pass 10 vape shops on your way home from work, but still not know much about the mechanics and intended purpose of the e-cigarettes. So let’s start with the basics shall we?
How do electronic cigarettes work?
Unlike smoking a regular cigarette, which requires the use of a lighter, e-cigarettes run on batteries. A user simply places the device in his mouth and puffs, which turns on the battery and then the atomizer.
The atomizer heats the liquid — typically infused with nicotine — and forms a vapor. The user then inhales the vapor and receives a hit. Some vapors are flavored and some, it should be noted, contain no nicotine.1
What are the stated benefits of electronic cigarettes?
Ideally, e-cigarettes should help a person wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes and, eventually, off of tobacco and nicotine altogether.2
David Eaton, chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee, believes this purpose alone makes it hard to label e-cigarettes as totally harmful. After all, as he says, “When adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness.”3
And we all know smoking-related illness can be both serious and life-threatening.
Still, electronic cigarettes aren’t always used in this way. And even when they are, the concerns may outweigh the benefits.3
The Dangers of E-Cigarette Use
Some of the danger of electronic-cigarettes lies in what research has yet to tell us. There’s so much we don’t know about what happens inside the body after long-term vaping — and we’ll get there. First, let’s start with what we do know.
What we know about the dangers of vaping:
- Nicotine is problematic regardless of the method used to ingest it.4
- Some chemicals used to flavor vapors are linked to serious lung disease.4
- Along with nicotine, users also take in heavy metals and troubling organic compounds.4
- The presence of formaldehyde and acrolein can damage DNA and even cause cancer.3
- Because ultrafine particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, respiratory issues are possible.4
- Side effects include chronic bronchitis, persistent cough, nosebleeds, dry mouth and long-lasting wounds.2
E-cigarettes claim to be the safer sister of traditional smoking, in part due to the lack of toxins found in a pack of Marlboro lights. But science can’t yet tell us what happens when cartridge chemicals are heated. We don’t know exactly how this might increase or decrease the danger associated with e-cigarettes.2
E-Cigarettes Aren’t Regulated By the FDA. That’s a Huge Problem.
Without regulation, the full facts of what a person inhales when vaping can’t be known. As CNN reports, “It could be nicotine, marijuana concentrate, or fruit-flavored, nicotine-free ‘e-liquid,’ popular among kids. Or worst of all, it could be a deadly concoction of chemicals, often a product of China, known as synthetic drugs.”2
These aren’t just could-be scenarios. There are confirmed cases of illegal chemicals, like meth, found in e-cigarette cartridges.2
Meanwhile, the FDA has given the greenlight on seven other products designed to help smokers kick the habit safely and for good.1
Other Concerns Surrounding E-Cigarettes
Beyond the dangers listed above, researchers have other concerns about the use of electronic cigarettes, including:
- The addictive potential of e-cigarettes. Much like traditional cigarette use, the nicotine found in e-cigarettes alters the brain of a user, making more nicotine a requirement to feel happy.1
- E-cigarettes as a conduit for drug use. Cartridges can hold more than nicotine. Some users ingest marijuana concentrate at potentially fatal levels, and the use of e-cigarettes to take in illegal drugs is also on the rise.2
- The increased risk of e-cigarette use in teens and young adults. Kids who never smoked traditional cigarettes are picking up the e-cigarette habit, a big problem for a population with still-developing brains and bodies.2
E-Cigarettes: You Be the Judge
If you’re hoping to wean yourself from traditional cigarettes, and ultimately nicotine, you could try electronic cigarettes. You might also consider checking out the other aids for quitting smoking that are available and regulated by the FDA.
And if you’re not a smoker, why start now?
1 Electronic Cigarettes (e-cigarettes). National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 2018.
2 Chalos, Melissa. Smoke and Mirrors: Does Vaping Make it Easy to Hide Drug Use? Michael’s House, Accessed July 14, 2018.
3 Sandoiu, Ana. Pros and cons of e-cigarettes revealed. Medical News Today, January 29, 2018.
4 The facts on e-cigarette use among youth and young adults. Surgeon General, Accessed July 14, 2018.