“Oh, no. It’s an E-Cig, it’s much Healthier.” – Studies Reveal Health Risks of E-Cigarettes

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“There’s no such thing as a safe cigarette.” This is a line that has been used to describe menthols, filtered cigarettes, and slims, but it also applies to the latest product for smokers: electronic cigarettes. They have been widely heralded by users and manufacturers as a completely harmless smoking alternative, but there isn’t much research to back up that statement. Recent studies have shown that they still contain tiny particles that can irritate lung tissue and could cause disease

Modern electronic cigarettes have been available for a decade and have been booming in popularity. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs don’t burn dried tobacco leaves doused in nearly 600 additives69 of which are carcinogenic. Instead, a battery-powered device heats a liquid solution (called e-liquid) of nicotine and flavors, creating an aerosol that is inhaled to simulate the physical sensation of smoking in a process known as “vaping”.

Higher end models of e-cigs allow the user to adjust the voltage from the battery, which regulates the intensity of the heating element. As the solution gets hotter, it intensifies the effect of the nicotine hit. Unfortunately, these higher temperatures also affect the glycerin and propylene glycol used as solvents within the e-liquid, converting them to carbonyls found in cigarettes such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde

Earlier this year, a study found that increasing an e-cig’s voltage from 3.2V to 4.8V while using an e-liquid with both solvents produced almost as much formaldehyde as a traditional cigarette. While the human body produces formaldehyde as a byproduct of normal metabolic activity in the cells, it is suspected of being carcinogenic when inhaled. The same study also found that at lower voltages, e-cigs produced up to 800 times less formaldehyde than a cigarette. While this might sound a lot safer, the size of the vapor particles and the delivery method into the lungs heavily impact the risk of disease.

Particles found in inhaled cigarette smoke have a median size of 0.3-0.5 microns. Testing has found that the e-cigarette particles have a median of 0.18-0.27 microns. About 40% of these particles can travel deep into the lungs and become embedded in the alveoli, where gas exchange occurs. Even if the particle itself isn’t toxic, the size alone places a burden on the lungs and can cause disease. 

As vaping is still fairly new, there just has not been enough time to do the necessary long-term studies regarding health risks. Though these early studies do hint that e-cigs are a better option than traditional smoking, that isn’t really saying a lot, because cigarettes are pretty terrible. Even if vaping is better than smoking, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. As its popularity continues to grow, it is important to understand the full risk associated with vaping for both the user and those exposed to the vapor secondhand.

Credit Janet Raloff, Science News

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5 comments on ““Oh, no. It’s an E-Cig, it’s much Healthier.” – Studies Reveal Health Risks of E-Cigarettes

  1. drakanewh says:

    4.5v, 70.0w here… I’ll be OK.

  2. Tanya Cliff says:

    Thank you for drawing attention to this! I lost my father when he was only 43 after his brief battle with lung cancer. He started smoking at age 15. See:

    https://postprodigal.com/2016/02/21/scars/

  3. I tried everything, and I mean everything to kick my 30+ year smoking habit. The E-cig was the only thing that worked. I was not looking to replace my smoking habit but to quit permanently. I have been cigarette and E-cig free for 2 1/2 years now. Yay me!

  4. Please do not spread fear about vaping. A lot of information overlooks the benefits of vaping. THAT is what should be promoted. There is a lot of research on vaping so your sentence “but there isn’t much research to back up that statement” is not correct. The statement “completely harmless smoking alternative” is also inaccurate as I don’t know if vaping has ever been promoted as such. Vaping might feel “new” to the ignorant public, but there are people now who have been vaping for 10 years already! A lot is known about it. It is very much less harmful than smoking. In another 10 years we might know more – but in the meantime, it is a wonderful substitute for smoking so don’t trash it for smokers. It can save lives – unless smokers are stopped from trying it with fear articles like this. Peace.

  5. Oh – just to add – there is another suggestion that annoyed me – that second hand vapour might be dangerous! Needs some homework by you. 😦

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