Smoking is one of the leading causes of death both in the United States and around the world.
Every year, nearly 480,000 American can be attributed to cigarette smoking. That equates to approximately one out of five deaths. It can negatively affect nearly every organ in a person’s body, as well as their overall health. Despite increased awareness of the risks associated with smoking, it continues to be widely practiced all around the world.
Quitting smoking is a difficult task. Nicotine is a powerfully addictive substance that contributes to a number of illnesses and ailments among users. Many try various methods of quitting including cold-turkey, nicotine patches, and nicotine gum; however, even with the assistance of products, it can be a long process and there’s always the chance of relapse. Electronic cigarettes were first introduced as an alternative to conventional cigarette smoking. For some, this device is a helpful tool when trying to quit or reduce smoking, while for others, it is simply an alternative to the product we have all grown to know as a danger. Marketed as a safe product, free from the tar and thousands of other chemicals found in cigarettes, electronic cigarettes appeal to many individuals. However, many are beginning to question the safety of these devices and whether or not they reduce the number of people who smoke, or simply give them a new object of desire.
What are E-Cigarettes?
An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that vaporizes liquid nicotine infused with various flavors and other chemicals. E-cigarettes are manufactured to look like traditional cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, or USB sticks. With more than 250 different e-cigarette brands on the market, there are a variety of options available to users. Most e-cigs work using the same components: a cartridge which contains the liquid nicotine and flavors, a heating device, and a power source (usually a battery). Puffing activates the device, turning on the battery-powered heating device and vaporizing the liquid in the cartridge. This is called “vaping.”
E-cigarettes contain rechargeable lithium batteries similar to those in a cell phone. In order to use the device, the user simply inhales the way they would with a normal cigarette. For some e-cigs, inhaling is the only step needed to activate the device. For others, they must first flip a switch to start the process. Many e-cigarette users claim that they receive the same “benefits” as regular smokers with their devices. They are able to hold the device in their hands, inhale, and exhale (complete with a cloud of vapor that resembles smoke). Many e-cigarettes also have a LED on the end of the device that lights up when the user inhales. Although this does not do anything for the actual function of the device, it does simulate a flame.
While e-cigarettes are marketed as safe alternatives to traditional cigarettes, not much is known about the repercussions of use. One of the greatest dangers associated with smoking is the inhalation of tar and other chemicals produced by combustion. E-cigarettes simulate the act of smoking by using flavors and nicotine without burning tobacco, which makes them appear to be a safer, less toxic alternative to cigarettes. Although it appears they are safer to use, long-term studies do not yet exist since the devices are relatively new.
The Concern with E-Cigarettes
One of the biggest concerns surrounding use of e-cigarettes is quality control. Many health experts are concerned about manufacturers not disclosing all of the chemicals used in their products. This makes it nearly impossible for an individual to know what they are consuming when using an e-cigarette. A study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2009 found this to be the case when they analyzed samples of nicotine cartridges from two different manufacturers. The amount of nicotine indicated on the labels did not always match what the cartridge delivered. Furthermore, some labels that stated they were “nicotine-free” contained nicotine. Some cartridges even contained the same cancer-causing compounds found in tobacco, in addition to other toxins.
While manufacturers of e-cigarettes continue to market e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking or smoking cessation aids, many health experts object that they have not conducted the research to support these claims. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that there is not enough evidence to support claims that e-cigarettes are safe. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, such as gum and patches, have been thoroughly tested and are proven effective in helping people quit smoking; however, e-cig users are often successful in convincing others to try e-cigs over other proven methods.
Many health experts are also concerned about e-cigarettes’ appeal to the non-smoking population. Since the devices are marketed as safe, it can be more tempting to experiment. This is especially true with young adults and adolescents. E-cigarettes often offer a wide array of sweet flavors and the novelty of the device can make them appear exciting to use. With increased online availability, e-cigarettes can fall into the hands of teens and young adults more easily, especially because many Internet companies do not verify the age of their consumers.
The Health Risks of Vaping
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, nearly 250,000 young adults who had never smoked before used an e-cig for the first time. There are a number of reasons that young adults may choose to try nicotine, such as reducing appetite, boosting mood, or increasing alertness. Nicotine is a stimulant that appears to have a positive effect on endurance. Many may use e-cigarettes believing they can attain these positive side effects without the negative consequences associated with cigarette smoking, yet emerging evidence suggests that vaping is not a healthy alternative.
E-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA, meaning manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients of the solution. In addition, vaping is shown to produce similar side effects to those of smoking. Although it does not contain actual smoke, vaping can still be harmful to the lungs. Vaping can cause inflammation in the lungs and produce a chronic cough. While it may not be enough for casual exercisers to notice a difference, those who exert themselves to their full capacity may notice a decrease in lung capacity, impairing their ability to workout. Some speculate that e-cigs could cause asthma attacks and allergic reactions. Early research on human lung cells also suggests that vapor may act similarly to cigarette smoke and can possibly increase the risk for lung cancer.
Regardless of the short term side effects of vaping, it is still unknown what the long-term side effects may be. Although studies currently suggest vaping is less damaging than traditional cigarette smoking, the devices still encourage the development of addiction and abuse. Nicotine is an addictive substance usually requires increased dosages in order to produce the same the same effects. It can also cause withdrawal symptoms, making users irritable, anxious, or lethargic without it. Nicotine can also cause negative effects on brain development among teens and young adults. In addition, the effects of secondhand vapor are largely unknown, making it potentially dangerous for those around users as well.
The way the device works has raised concerns regarding potential for abuse. Users could potentially add other substances to their e-cigarette to abuse. With the potential for abuse and unknowns regarding long-term effects, many cities and countries have passed laws restricting purchase and use of e-cigarettes. This is just the first of many changes that are expected to come in the near future. The FDA has proposed new regulations that would allow the agency to exercise authority over the devices and treat them like other tobacco products. In addition, the FDA is moving to propose minimum age requirements in an attempt to keep them out of the hands of children.
Many argue that the introduction of vaping may make it easier and more socially acceptable to pick up the habit. Vaping does not leave a smell like tobacco, making it even more difficult to identify whether or not a loved one has taken up the habit. If you do not currently smoke, it is not recommended that you start vaping, as there are no health benefits and some risks involved.