Electronic cigarettes broke into the scene a few years ago and were marketed as a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes. They were geared both towards smokers with no intention of quitting and towards those who were aiming to quit, but were having a hard time using things like the patches and gum. Nowadays, with big tobacco companies breathing down their necks, the FDA worried about quality standards and more companies hitting the market, the savvy consumer should not only be treating these as the ‘little guy’ which is worth defending against the big evil companies, but should also be looking at how useful they actually are, especially in terms of safety. Are e-cigarettes ‘safe’? How safe is safe?
What are Electronic Cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes are devices which came out of China several years ago. They work by heating a capsule of liquid nicotine into a vapor which is then breathed into the lungs and exhaled largely as water vapor. Many other electronic cigarettes don’t have nicotine at all; they simply deliver the sensation of smoking through water vapor. Most of them have flavors like mint or bubble gum or they can be just be straight up, what you see is what you get.
The idea behind them was to let smokers get their hit of nicotine or get the sensation of smoking without all of the damaging chemicals that come from using the traditional rolled cigarettes. Since taking off overseas, the industry has racked in over $10 billion and is due to spike in the coming years as more smokers come around to the idea of using an LED lighted tip with nicotine on the inside instead of using the usual rolled smokes. Indeed, some investors predict that rolled cigarettes will go ‘extinct’ in the next generation or two.
So Are they Safe to Use?
When compared to conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are absolutely the safer of the two. Consider:
- Conventional Cigarettes release over four thousand chemicals through the combustion of tobacco and at least 250 of them are harmful to humans. These include tar, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, and Chromium VI. These chemicals are linked to cancers of a wide variety
- Conventional cigarettes force you to inhale carbon monoxide which is a chemical compound that limits the amount of oxygen your red blood cells can carry. It can also increase cholesterol levels. The combination causes problems with the heart and other organs, including the brain.
- Second hand smoke from cigarettes also causes a serious health hazard to children and non-smoking adults; for example, women exposed to second hand smoke are more likely to have low birth weight babies, people around smokers regularly have a greater risk of heart disease and higher blood pressure.
- Conventional smokes smell bad, damage your teeth and mouth, can cause problems with eating, and may promote other bad habits including drug use and drinking. This is HIGHLY dependent on the person however.
Electronic cigarettes really don’t have any of these problems since you’re either smoking nicotine or nothing really at all.
All right, so if we look at the straight across comparison, electronic cigarettes certainly do come out on top. They don’t have second hand smoke problems, they don’t even have 250 chemicals in them, let alone 250 dangerous ones and they don’t force you to inhale carbon monoxide. So why are they being banned in many European countries and why is the FDA cracking down on them?
The Great Unknown
It’s not because we know that electronic cigarettes are dangerous-it’s because we don’t know where they fall in the dangerous spectrum and that’s why they are being treated with a certain amount of wariness. One of the big concerns of electronic cigarettes is not that they are dangerous, but rather that they have yet to be regulated by any sort of neutral(ish) health board. This means that there is no real quality standard under which these products are scrutinized and that means that the product is very much buyer beware. The other concern is that while we know the impacts of things like nicotine patches and gum, we don’t know the whole story behind vaping nicotine.
Here is the best case scenario: the normal, nicotine filled electronic cigarette has, well, nicotine in it. Nicotine is a chemical substance classified as a liquid alkaloid, made from carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sometimes oxygen. Sound familiar? Your morning cup of coffee has these things too! And good luck prying that cup out of my hands!
Nicotine makes up about 5% of the average tobacco plant and cigarettes hold between eight and twenty milligrams with 1 mg absorbed by the body per cigarette. Nicotine is known for causing feelings of invigoration, relaxation, euphoria and contentment which is why people smoke them up. It also causes a rapid release of adrenaline and causes the body to block the release of insulin and increases your basal metabolic rate a little. What’s interesting about all of these health effects is that many of the effects of nicotine are similar to things like caffeine, including euphoria and invigoration, so many advocates of electronic cigarettes point out that if one is legal and fine to use, so should be the other!
On the other hand, we don’t yet know what the full effects of inhaling nearly pure nicotine on a regular basis will be. We know the impacts of nicotine cut with other substances, but pure nicotine is as yet unbroken ground; it’s just not something that has been done in recent years. This is one of the primary concerns of medical practitioners who discuss the use of e-cigarettes with patients.
And really, this is the best case scenario; the reality is that without regulation, there are risks to using electronic cigarettes. You should also always buy from a reputable source like our favorite Green Smoke because less reputable brands may contain far too much nicotine or even nicotine in products marked as being free from it. So, it’s a buyer’s beware market and you really have to be sensible about purchasing from the right manufacturers in order to stay safe.
Other concerns include the fact that because they are marketed with flavors like chocolate and mint that they could attract the attention of children and non-smokers. It’s worth pointing out that as yet there are no cases of children becoming smokers because of these devices, but it’s still a common concern that comes up when discussing whether or not electronic cigarettes should be banned and where they should be banned. ( I’ve personally left mine out which has a cherry flavor cartridge and had to explain to my four year old it’s not candy but for adults only).
There is no doubt that electronic cigarettes are far, vastly safer than their conventional cigarette counterparts. Most reputable brands only have a handful of FDA approved ingredients, the second hand smoke is nonexistent, and they are far less damaging if not nearly zero damage to the body than the normal tobacco. On the other hand, you do have to be careful to only buy from a reputable brand; you should be mindful of the effects of nicotine on your body and make sure to keep the device away from children! If you are not going to quit smoking, but you would prefer a healthier alternative, then e-cigs may be the way to go with them; if you’re looking to quit altogether, they may not be the best method out there. as chances are you will want to continue using them. But if you want something safer to smoke around yourself and others, electronic cigarettes seem to be the best way to go. Either way, good luck!
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