If I told you that you could smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and no longer face the risk of lung cancer or other ailments usually associated with smoking, would you believe me? Well, if claims by manufacturers of e-cigarettes are true, that’s exactly the case.
There are two sides to electronic cigarettes. On the one side, you’ve got organizations traditionally fighting against tobacco companies. On the other side, you’ve got traditional tobacco companies and new companies marketing this new nicotine-delivery system.
E-cigarettes are a big unknown when it comes to long-term safety. However, they are facing a barrage of attacks from organizations with much invested in what has become an anti-smoking industry.
In this article, we’ll explore the science behind these devices, and explore whether these really represent what the future of smoking is going to look like.
What Are Electronic Cigarettes
In 1927, an inventor by the name of Joseph Robinson filed a patent for what could realistically be considered the first generation design of the modern-day e-cigarette. It was a vaporizing device that electrically heated medicinal compounds so that patients could inhale the vapors for faster absorption into the bloodstream.
A number of patents were issued from the 1960’s through the next millenium, until in 2003, a Chinese man named Hon Lik – inspired by the death of his father to lung cancer – developed the world’s first actual electronic cigarette.
His patent best describes the process of how e-cigarettes work.
The present invention relates to an electronic atomization cigarette which contains nicotine without harmful tar. The electronic atomization cigarette includes a shell and a mouthpiece… The advantages of the present invention include smoking without tar, significantly reducing the carcinogenic risk. Furthermore, users still feel as if they are smoking and experiencing the same excitement, and the cigarette is no need to be lit and is no fire risk.
The first commercial version of these were released in 2006 in Europe, and then in 2007 in the United States. Today, there are over 250 brands of e-cigarettes with sales at nearly 1 billion units by the end of 2013.
What’s It Like To Smoke An EC?
With over 200 brands and varieties of these things in the market, you really have to pay attention to the nicotine dosages listed on the packaging to understand what you’re getting. There are even some that come with no nicotine at all.
— CigSpy (@cigspy) August 19, 2014
Based on a large number of anecdotal experiences posted by users online and in social networks, the experience is clearly a little different than regular cigarettes. You need to peel a little sticker off a small air-hole so that when you take a drag, air can flow in and allow the vapor to escape the end hole into your mouth.
For many people who smoke the device like they do cigarettes, it may not work. Small drags held in your mouth before sucking into your lungs tend to dissipate so quickly that not much of the nicotine actually makes it into your lungs.
— Brian Green (@BrianGreen84) May 21, 2013
Apparently, the trick to actually getting nicotine into your system is to slowly suck the fog directly into your lungs — and a lot of it.
The deeper you drag the vapor into your lungs, the more you’ll feel the buzz. A long, deep drag on an e-cigarette will give you a kick that feels just like a real cigarette (if you haven’t smoked much before).
So, here’s the verdict after reading about the experience people have had with these devices.
- Little to no aftertaste in the mouth once you’re done, even if you’ve used it for a while
- No nasty cigarette smell on your clothes
- Absolutely zero scent in the air during or after smoking
- The required drag to get an equivalent “buzz” as cigarettes takes more than what’s advertised on the packaging
- For some people, there can be some slight lung irritation or dry cough
The lung irritation is anecdotal, because most studies regarding short-term dangers of e-cigarettes show them to be far safer than real cigarettes. According to WebMD:
So far, evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may be safer than regular cigarettes. The biggest danger from tobacco is the smoke, and e-cigarettes don’t burn. Tests show the levels of dangerous chemicals they give off are a fraction of what you’d get from a real cigarette.
However, the debate with e-cigarettes comes down the the effects of long-term use, and whether the particulates found in the vapor could significantly impact human health or not. Then there’s the matter of nicotine addiction.
Science And Safety Of E-Cigarettes
What are the facts behind these devices? Are they truly safe alternatives to smoking, and the future of smokology? It’s hard to say.
The answer to that question varies, depending who you ask. The anti-smoking lobby is hard at work to discredit these devices as unsafe, while there is actually little to no evidence showing that’s really the case.
The common criticisms that anti-smoking advocates have of e-cigarettes are as follows, according to the group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights .
- E-cigarette vapor conains ultrafine particles that could “exacerbate respiratory ailments”
- The aerosol contains trace amounts of acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and nicotine.
- There are metal nanoparticles in the aerosol, including chromium, nickel and tin.
- Short-term use can, “increase respiratory resistance and impair lung function”.
In 2014, the FDA issued a proposed rule that e-cigarettes would be included as a “tobacco product” and fall under the same FDA regulations as other tobacco products, even though the device itself makes no use of tobacco whatsoever.
Researcher Monique Williams of the University of California provided the results of her research in 2013, which revealed that overall, the chemicals and particles found by a few studies were not consistently found by other researchers. Overall, she found EC’s were still much safer than cigarettes.
EC fluid and aerosol contain carbonyls, VOCs, TSNAs, and metals, and overall have fewer chemicals than conventional cigarettes. […] While many carcinogens are found in small amounts in EC fluid, aerosol, and exhale and may reduce cancer, the effects of EC products on cancer may not be known for many years.
She also found that performance and aerosol content varied significantly between brands.
There is also some confusion, and a manipulation of the facts by the anti-smoking activists, such as referring to the propylene glycol used in the EC fluids as the equivalent of “antifreeze”, leaving out the fact that propylene glycol is actually added to reduce the toxicity of antifreeze. It’s ethylene glycol that is the poisonous compound in antifreeze.
Propylene glycol is actually classified by the FDA and regulators in Canada and the UK as safe, and it’s been used in products like nebulizers, nasal sprays and cough syrups for years.
However, it’s true that the effects of long-term inhalation of propylene glycol are unknown. What is well-accepted, however, is that the inhalation of burning tobacco smoke is probably worse by several orders of magnitude.
Another manipulation of the data is the fact, repeated throughout the media, that a 2009 FDA analysis of e-cigarettes found carcinogens and diethylene glycol in the aerosol. However, the analysis involved a “small sample of cartridges” from only two brands — there are over 200 brands on the market.
Are E-Cigarettes The Future Of Smoking?
The real question here is whether these electronic devices are going to eradicate traditional cigarettes in the near future. Despite the best efforts of anti-smoking groups, it isn’t likely that the popularity and increasing adoption of these products is going to reverse any time soon.
The fact remains that e-cigarettes are far less dangerous than traditional cigarettes. Stories abound all across the Internet of people getting their lung capacity and their health back after switching over to these gadgets.
While it may be impossible for anti-smoking activists to promote smoking a new product in order to stop smoking a more dangerous product — the fact remains that e-cigarettes could potentially save many thousands of lives over the next few decades.
— debbie guardino (@debbie_gi) December 10, 2013
However, there is a caution that goes along with this product. The danger with saying that something is “safer” for existing smokers to use, does not mean that the product is “safe” for non-smokers to start using. Whether or not research ever proves that the components of the vapor are at all harmful — the fact remains that it is a device meant to deliver nicotine, a highly addictive chemical, into your bloodstream.
Addiction of any form is an unhealthy behavior, and one that could potentially take years to break. It’s a monkey that many people find impossible to get off their back — so why take the risk at all?
Do you feel that e-cigarettes will be the smoker’s choice of the future? Or is it just a passing fad? Share your thoughts or your own experiences with e-cigarettes in the comments section below!