E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular the last couple of years.
National representation studies of the United States show the numbers of adults having ever tried an e-cigarette increased from less than 1% to 8% from 2009 to 2012. That is a 7% increase in only three years.
Use among youth in the US is rising as well. From 2011 to 2012 there was an increase of numbers from 3-7% among middle and high school students. The number indicates that approximately 1.78 million American youth had tried e-cigarettes by 2012 (Pepper, 2014).
And the numbers of users have just kept growing ever since.
In a report by the Surgeon General in 2016 we see that the numbers of adults having ever used e-cigarettes have risen from 8-16,4% and the use for high school students has risen to 37,7%. E-cigarettes are widely popular with the youths and young adults and the most commonly cited reasons are curiosity, flavoring and the low perceived harm of e-cigarettes compared to other tobacco products (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2016).
So why do we care? Well because the content of e-cigarettes is not just water with a little bit of flavor. It actually contains a bunch of dangerous toxins, which long term health risks we are still unclear of.
Nicotine in itself can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, increased heart rate and blood pressure. It can also result in prefrontal brain development in adolescent, which definitely lead to concern when keeping in mind the increasing number of user in the groups youths and young adults.
Nicotine in e-liquid may also be a household hazard, since many e-liquids have candy and fruit flavoring, which can be attractive in the eyes of smaller children. Cases of nicotine poisoning from e-liquids have increased massively and accidental ingestion by children have increased with 1,5% in the past three years, which can in worst case scenarios lead to death (Ross, 2016).
Other than that e-cigarettes often contain a chemical compound called diacetyl, which can lead to a rare lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans or more commonly known as ‘butter lung’. Diacetyl is a chemical used in the butter flavoring of microwave popcorn and studies show that workers of microwave popcorn manufacturing have poorer lung function and are more inclined to develop this disease (CDC).
Other major components of e-liquids are propylene glycol and glycerol, which seems not to be dangerous on their own. They may however decompose when heated by the vaporizer and be transformed into toxic compounds such as formaldehyde, which is classified as being able to cause cancer (cancer.gov). This is more common with newer vaporizers that operates on high wattage.
E-cigarettes are therefore not harmless flavored water even though it generally contains fewer toxins than regular tobacco products (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2016).
Regular cigarettes vs. e-cigarettes
With cigarettes being the number one cause of preventable death in the US (Ross, J. (2016), e-cigarettes are definitely preferable. The major benefit of e-cigarettes is that they do not produce the tar of the toxic gases found in cigarette smoke.
E-cigarettes are often being marketed as a tool to help smokers quit. The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has however not approved any e-cigarette as a safe and effective way to stop smoking. In fact, studies show that in 2015 58,8% of people, who recently used e-cigarettes, also currently smoked regular cigarettes (American Lung Association).
Can e-cigarettes help people to stop smoking?
Whether or not e-cigarettes has any effect here is wildly debated and the studies often show conflicting results. In one study e-cigarettes were mildly helpful and in other studies they did not increase quit rates and was even associated with a higher risk of continuing to smoke.
The bottom line is that if you are a smoker switching to e-cigarettes could be rather beneficial for your health, since e-cigarettes do have fewer health risks associated with them compared to ‘old-fashioned’ cigarettes.
But if you do not smoke there is no reason to begin using e-cigarettes, since these do contain a lot of toxins that can lead to major health risks later in life.