E-Cigarettes Are Not As Harmless As We've Been Told

By Victoria Kim 08/20/14

A number of recent studies have shown that vapor contains harmful byproducts that can cause asthma, cancer, and heart disease.

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There is growing evidence that e-cigarettes are not as safe as manufacturers claim. The billion-dollar industry has exploded in recent years, drawing customers with the promise of safe nicotine consumption without the harmful, carcinogenic byproducts of regular cigarettes.

Aggressive marketing by e-cigarette manufacturers tout the health benefits of vaping, which involves the atomization of a nicotinated propylene glycol solution or e-liquid, over smoking. But several recent studies raise concerns about the actual safety of the devices.

Dr. Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, and his research team examined emerging data on what e-cigarette smokers are inhaling. The researchers found that e-cigarettes produce greater risk than scientists had thought, delivering high levels of nano particles which can trigger inflammation and have been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

A study published in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology showed that e-cigarette performance was virtually identical to that of regular cigarettes, in terms of exhaled nitric oxide rates. The presence of chemicals such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, toluene, and heavy metals like cadmium, nickel, and lead in both first and second-hand vapor was found in multiple studies, as well.

Solvents, which are used to dissolve the nicotine and flavorings in e-cigarette vapor, are potent lung irritants and upon heating can be converted to carcinogenic compounds known as carbonyls. A recent meta-study by Dr. Priscilla Callahan-Lyon of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products found that most e-cigarette vapor contained at least trace amounts of the solvents.

Not only is the evidence mounting against the health and safety of e-cigarettes themselves, but for many people, the devices are not actually conducive to smoke cessation either.

“The e-cigarettes are rapidly penetrating the market, especially with kids. They’re being heavily promoted largely by the cigarette companies that have purchased e-cigarette companies as a way to quit smoking, a way that’s safe and doesn’t pollute the air,” Glantz told Gizmodo. “What the evidence to date shows is that while a puff on an e-cigarette isn’t as dangerous as a puff on a regular cigarette, the main effect they seem to be having is to keep people smoking cigarettes.”

For many smokers, e-cigarettes have opened the door to the “dual use effect,” which means that instead of quitting cigarettes, smokers are simply supplementing their current smoking habit, using e-cigarettes for indoor use or wherever regular cigarettes are prohibited.

“Certainly, as the cigarette companies take over the e-cigarette market, there’s no incentive for them to promote e-cigarettes as an alternative to regular cigarettes because the tobacco companies make a lot more money off of cigarettes,” Glantz said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr