E-cigarettes: oh what a wonderful invention! Isn’t it every smoker’s dream to smoke without the subconscious anxiety about future health and rotting teeth? Indeed, it seems as though that vision is coming true – look around two or three shopping centres and you’re guaranteed to find advertisements of electronic cigarettes, promising a safe device, without all the cancerous chemicals packed into a standard pack of smokes. It’s just nicotine with flavourings, they seduce. Great! We can smoke and forget the consequences! Can we?

For those of you that don’t know, these ‘harmless’ devices (also known as ‘vapes’) consist of a battery, a heating element, a cartridge with nicotine, flavourings and other liquids (yes, hard to specify because not all producers want to disclose the content…). The smoke you see is vapour created by the mixture of liquids and flavours.

First of all, how can we say that something which contains as much as 48mg/ml of nicotine is harmless? I’ve observed that there is a tendency to believe that nicotine is addictive, but ‘that’s it.’ Well, sorry to disappoint, but it’s a psychoactive substance that binds to the adrenal medulla in our brains, increases our adrenaline flow, which in turn raises blood pressure, plus the heart and respiration rate. For somebody with heart issues, this could be fatal. For a healthy individual, this could cause heart problems in the long term.

Say that nicotine really was ‘just’ addictive, without any further heart or respiration effects – isn’t addiction bad in itself? It seems rather strange to me that people find it normal to not be able to control themselves; when they don’t find it unusual to get withdrawal symptoms or experience irritability without the nicotine. Which is what you get from e-cigarettes. It can even be said that they cause a more intense addiction because one can smoke them practically anywhere – there are no bans or restrains, so it’s not hard to spot someone ‘vaping’ intensely every 5 minutes on a bus. Surely, everybody has heard that this is the perfect opportunity for heavy smokers to quit, but is it really so useful if you end up moving from one addiction to another?

It should also be noted that although e-cigarettes can eventually make heavy smokers ditch the habit, this process can work the other way round too. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recently published statistics showing that the use of e-cigarettes among school children tripled within the past three years. These children start with vapes because they’re widely advertised, flavoursome and easily accessible for under-18s (due to the lack of specific regulation), making smoking a fashionable routine all over again. Lots of them eventually move on to original cigarettes to experience ‘new tastes’, when their e-companion is broken and for many other reasons. In the end, we get statistics proving that many smokers, indeed, started by vaping.

Then there are all the other substances hidden beneath the mysterious liquids. One of the essentials, propylene glycol (PG) has many other uses besides the e-cigarette, the most common being theatrical smoke. Years of studies have established that the components of such smoke are safe, but no experiment can possibly prove how ‘safe’ these compounds are when inhaled into the lungs. Similarly, no one can really assure you that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (the artificial flavours) in your lungs don’t pose any health risks, simply because no one has smoked the e-cigarette for long enough. And how can we determine the safety of something we know little about in the long term? Unfortunately, there is a lack of study about the substances in general and, as mentioned earlier, many producers fail to disclose the exact chemicals added.

The World Health Organization has already called for stricter regulation of the product’s sales, more research and a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in public areas (due to recent research on potential risks of second-hand smoke to foetuses and children) – these issues will be discussed at the next UN meeting in October. Perhaps we will soon realise that no form of smoking is as glamorous as it seems and that there are better ways to quit than to substitute one type of cigarette for another.

 

Sources:

http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/content/43/5/1.2.full

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/05/rise-of-e-cigarettes-miracle-or-health-risk

http://acsh.org/2014/01/effects-nicotine-human-health/

http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0825-e-cigarettes.html