Health Risk or Harmless? 5 Facts About E-Cigarettes
Over the past several years, we have seen a big increase in vaping, which is the usage of electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, vape pens or mods. In fact, a quick Google search shows nearly 40 stores that exclusively sell e-cigarette paraphernalia all within few minutes drive of Moses Cone Hospital. This doesn’t include stores that sell tobacco related products, including e-cigarettes, such as convenience stores and grocery stores.
There is much debate about the health risks of using this nicotine delivery system. Claims include that the use of e-cigarettes is safer than smoking and a tool to help smokers quit smoking cigarettes. However, health officials are concerned with the long-term health implications of e-cigarettes since there is not enough data on the effects of prolonged usage to reach a conclusion. What do you think?
Here are five facts about using e-cigarettes to help you decide:
- The act of using an e-cigarette is called “vaping.” This term is coined from the inhalation of an aerosol called “vapor.” E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid solution called e-liquid or “juice” to its boiling point, thereby creating a vapor that is inhaled. This vapor contains up to 30 different chemicals, including nicotine, which feed the user’s craving just as a traditional tobacco product might.
- E-cigarettes use e-liquid that consists of about 75 percent propylene glycol or glycerin. One assumption is that the inhalation of either of these chemicals is not harmful because the FDA has classified them both as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for consumption. However, the FDA classification applies to ingesting these chemicals, not inhaling them.
- Besides nicotine, the vapor that is inhaled may contain heavy metals that are tiny particles that get inhaled into the lungs and stay there. The vapor can also contain cancer-causing products such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein, which is also a known irritant to the eyes, skin and nasal passages. Also, just as second-hand cigarette smoke has been deemed harmful, second-hand e-cigarette vapor may be harmful as well.
- The Food and Drug Administration has only just begun implementing standards for manufacturing e-liquid. Because of this, many labels may incorrectly list ingredients or leave ingredients off altogether. One of the most important ingredient in e-liquid is nicotine. Juice comes in increments of nicotine ranging from 0mg/mL to 36mg/mL. Tests have recently shown that the nicotine levels may be mislabeled on the bottles.
- It wasn't until August of 2016 that the FDA finalized a rule extending the Center for Tobacco Products regulatory authority to cover electronic nicotine delivery systems. The long-term lack of regulatory oversight of e-cigarettes allowed them to be heavily marketed towards teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “In 2013, more than a quarter million middle and high schoolers never smoked regular cigarettes but had used e-cigarettes.” It isn’t clear whether using e-cigarettes will lead young folks to try other tobacco products.
E-cigarettes are an alternative to tobacco products that have not been shown to successfully allow smoking cessation, may cause lung damage and have opened new doors to teen nicotine consumption. Until there is more information on the effects of vaping, it is important to talk about it with your health provider.
About the Author
Patrick Eugene Wright, MD serves as the vice president of patient safety of Cone Health and is a pulmonary critical care physician.