Cigarette smoking kills approximately half a million people a year in the United States. Most of the harm done to humans originates in the thousands of chemicals that are burned and inhaled in the smoke. E- cigarettes don’t burn per se, so people are not exposed to those deadly toxins.
A 2015 review from Pubic Health England estimated that e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes. However, researchers at the University of Michigan state that it is likely an optimistic figure and that e-cigarettes re more likely to be 80 to 85 percent less dangerous. They also note that the harm from secondhand vapor is exceedingly low whereas the danger from secondhand smoke is considerable.
American youth are currently more likely to use e-cigarettes than any other form of tobacco. In 2016, more than 2 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes.
There is a perception that the usage of them is harmless and while the harm caused is very significantly less than tobacco cigarettes, there are still some very real concerns. As with most new products emerging on the market, the long-term effects of their usage are unknowable.
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine — the chief drug found in regular tobacco cigarettes.
Nicotine has documented damaging effects, such as it is highly addictive, that it is a neurotoxin that can harm the developing brains of children and young adults up to the age of 20, and that it is harmful to the developing fetus carried within a smoking mother.
The e-cigarette aerosol can harm the lung because of some of the chemicals in the vapor leading to inflammation. This reaction can apparently occur even if the vapor inhaled is simple water vapor without any added nicotine.
The Center for Disease Control(CDC) has noted cases where children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their eyes or skin. The e-cigarette batteries have upon occasion malfunctioned causing burns to the hands and face of users.
Also, the “fun” fruity flavorings used in some e-cigarettes target the young.
These flavorings are known to be reasonably safe for ingestion and are cleared for use in the digestive tract, but not necessarily safe for the lungs and respiratory system.
Another flavor used in e-cigarettes imparts a buttery taste and it is often used in commercially flavored popcorn. It is diacetyl and its use in e-cigarettes results in a lung disease properly termed “popcorn lung.”
E-cigarettes are not currently approved by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) as a smoking cessation tool because studies investigating their use in that capacity have had inconsistent results.
What is recommended is nicotine replacement therapy including patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers that deliver small controlled amounts of nicotine to help satisfy the addictive cravings of the drug and reduce the urge to smoke.
Unfortunately, many smokers use both traditional tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes, switching to e-cigarettes where smoking is prohibited.
Stanford Health Care states that although e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoked cigarettes, they cannot be considered harmless and one of the reasons that they cite is that some brands contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
A 2016 study published in the journal Pediatrics noted that teens that had not smoked but used e-cigarettes were six times more likely to try cigarettes than those who do not vape. However, the CDC statistics on teen smoking is somewhat more encouraging. These figures indicate that while the use of e-cigarettes went up to 24 percent in 2015, tobacco smoking for teens dropped to a historic low of under 11 percent.
The FDA is now regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as traditional tobacco products, in that no one under age can purchase them, sellers need to check the ID of anyone appearing to be under the age of 27, the products cannot be sold in vending machines except in adult-only facilities, and free samples are forbidden.
E-cigarettes placed on the market after 2007 have to go through FDA safety checks to enter or stay on the market.
Better yet don’t smoke or vape at all.
Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser, behavior change specialist, email@example.com, 212-8119 cell/text and www.janerileyfitness.com