If you’re a fan of e-cigarettes, you might think you are using a safe substitute for the real thing. Inhaling vapor from an e-cigarette instead of smoke from burning tobacco seems like a healthier alternative for your throat and lungs. Plus, with e-cigarettes, you are not exposing others to the dangers of secondhand smoke.
If you aren’t familiar with the tobacco replacement product, here’s how it works. An e-cigarette is designed to look like a tobacco cigarette. It is battery-powered to heat a cartridge of liquid, usually containing nicotine. The heated liquid produces a vapor for users to inhale. The first e-cigarettes appeared in China in 2004, and now dozens of e-cigarette products are on the market.
But are e-cigarettes really safe? E-cigarette makers say so, but they have no scientific data to back their claims. There is no solid information about how these products will affect the health of users now, or in the long run. Many health experts would like to pull the plug on the nicotine devices until the long-term health effects can be studied.
Public health officials are most concerned about the risks posed by the lack of standards across the many brands and models of e-cigarettes. Currently, the e-cigarette industry is not subject to any quality control through regulations.
Because e-cigarettes are not made under the same strict standards as pharmaceutical products, such as nicotine inhalers, you can’t be sure of what you are getting in each puff. Tests of several brands showed that they delivered different amounts of nicotine. In some cases, e-cigarettes produced less nicotine than cigarette smoking or nicotine replacement medicines, but not enough to provide much relief of tobacco urges. Several brands have had wrong, missing, or confusing labels that, for example, listed the wrong strength of nicotine.
Some manufacturers of e-cigarettes claim their products deliver a hit of nicotine without the harmful chemicals and toxins in tobacco. However, the Food and Drug Administration warns that e-cigarettes may contain toxic ingredients.
Other hazards of e-cigarettes have been documented. Some e-cigarettes leak inside the wrappers or when cartridges are changed, allowing the skin to absorb liquid nicotine, another possible health issue. Just recently, a Florida man was severely burned when an e-cigarette with a faulty battery exploded in his mouth, knocking out some teeth and destroying a chunk of his tongue.
In addition to the hazards, e-cigarettes may actually inspire smokers to keep using nicotine. Those who might normally try to quit smoking can continue to feed their nicotine addiction with e-cigarettes.
What’s worse, they may even absorb nicotine more frequently, since they can now use e-cigarettes in nonsmoking areas and thus expose others to secondhand vapors. Without adequate research to determine the health effects of secondhand vapors, the emissions of e-cigarettes may place the public at risk.
Health officials also worry about the impact of e-cigarettes on our youth. With a variety of sweet flavors, such as chocolate and strawberry, e-cigarettes may attract a whole new generation of nicotine users. E-cigarettes might also entice kids to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.
The final word on the safety of e-cigarettes isn’t out yet, so be wary of false and misleading claims. If you’re considering using e-cigarettes to quit tobacco, be sure to check out both sides of the e-cigarette debate. And if you are using e-cigarettes, be sure to stay tuned in and on top of the latest intelligence on this controversial topic.