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E-Cigarettes: Safe Alternative Or Trendy Killer?

Updated on August 2, 2013

Electronic cigarettes have been on the market for quite some time now. Smokers all over the world are trading in their traditional cigarettes for their modern cousins. But with no in depth health studies on the effects of the new fad, how can the adoring masses truly be sure what they are doing is OK?

First of all, it needs to be said that smokers by definition are not going to be as concerned with the effects of e-cigarettes as most non-smokers would be. Why you ask? Because smoker smoke, and they know it's bad for them! So a switch to an electronic cigarette may not need to be healthier. It could simply be more convenient, or cheaper.

The are lots of reasons someone might make the switch, they may think it's healthier for them, they may enjoy not smelling like an ashtray, or maybe they are in it for the cost savings. Either way, people are using them, and the trend does not appear to be slowing down.

What are E-Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes are not actually smoking paraphernalia at all, there is no tobacco, and there may not even be any nicotine. E-cigarettes are vaporizers and use electricity to heat “e-liquid” into vapor form to be inhaled. What is e-liquid? E-liquid is made up 3-4 main ingredients:

  • Propalyne Glycol, (PG)
  • Vegetable Glycerine, (VG)
  • Flavoring, (Flavor Extracts)
  • Nicotine, (optional)

These ingredients vary for different people. For instance, the ratio of the two most plentiful ingredients PG and VG stipulate the amount of “vape” and “throat hit” the user will get. An e-liquid with more PG will have a stronger effect on your throat, or “throat hit,” while e-liquids with more VG will create a larger cloud of vapor or “vape.” Many profesional mixers will give you the option of deciding the ratio, with proper advice mind you. The flavoring can consist of anything you can think of. They inject the flavor into the e-liquid using flavor extracts. Nicotine, the final ingredient is optional. Almost every manufacturer of e-liquid offers varying amounts of nicotine, from “holy crap I feel like I just smoked a truck full of cigarettes,” to none at all. The nicotine is measured in milligrams (mg) and injected into the formula with the other ingredients to create a uniquely blended e-liquid.

The e-cigarettes themselves are also quite simple, depending on the model. There are models of e-cigarettes that have more bells and whistles than my car, but for now, we will stick to the more basic, easy to use models. Electronic cigarettes (for the most part) consist of 2-3 pieces, each with a specific function.

3 Piece

2 Piece

The battery is the life of the e-cigarette. It provides power to the atomizer which acts as a heating coil, converting the liquid in the cartridge into vapor. Now, with any new technology, there are of course advances. There are now many more options involved in e-cigarettes, all with the same end result.

There are two types of batteries, manual and automatic, and they are exactly what they sound like. A manual battery has a small button that activates the e-cigarette, which gives the user more control over their vapor, while the automatic is triggered by sucking air through the mouthpiece, which gives the user the sensation of smoking a real cigarette. It is really just a personal preference.

Now, the 3 piece option offers a cartridge and an atomizer. The cartridge is used to soak up the e-liquid. The atomizer is used as a heating coil to heat the liquid in the cartridge. In the 2 piece version, the cartridge and atomizer duo is replaced by a cartomizer, which is one piece that serves both functions.

E-Cigarettes and Health

To say that electronic cigarettes are a healthy alternative to smoking would be wrong, probably. The truth is nobody know because there hasn't been any rigorous health effects research done. However, in recent months, since the strength of the e-cigarette trend has grown, so has push for adequate research.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the WHO (World Health Organization) are both adamantly fighting the trend. Both organizations are worried that there isn't sufficient data to deem electronic cigarettes safe for public use. However, since there is no tobacco in an e-cigarette, the FDA's efforts to ban them in the U.S. have failed pending more research. What we do know is that since there is no tobacco, the product does not have age restrictions despite the nicotine.

The FDA published a report stating that they found traces of Diethylene glycol, also remarking that it is found in Antifreeze. This report has received criticism from proponents of electronic cigarettes arguing that Diethylene glycol is also found in toothpaste, wine, cough syrup, and mouthwash. One researcher studying the effects of Diethylene Glycol inhalation on rats found nothing more than a mild irritation in the larynx and nasal turbinates (nasal concha bone).

Possible Smoking Cessation Use

Opponents of electronic cigarettes have made it very clear that they are not to be used as smoking cessation tools, however that's not what everyone says. Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health says that they have been effective thus far in aiding smokers quit the habbit. Smokers will tell you that cigarettes have three addictions or habits; nicotine, oral, and hand. For anyone who is not aware of oral and hand addictions, they are the habits of having something in your hand and/or mouth. These fixations last longer than nicotine addiction in many smoker who have quit, and is the reason why some have failed. Electronic cigarettes may not have been designed as a smoking cessation product, but if it works for some, I say good on them.

The Future of E-Cigarettes

The biggest problem that we face with e-cigarettes is the unknown. There is simply not enough information and research for organizations like the FDA or WHO to decide whether or not they are safe. Like I said earlier, more research is being conducted now to determine their fate. Only time will tell if e-cigarettes truly are a safer alternative or even more dangerous than the real thing.

What do you think about electronic cigarettes? Do you think they are safer? Should they be banned? Leave a comment below with your opinion.

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    • Wakerra profile image

      Wakerra 3 years ago

      Very interesting. Honestly, I think smoking/inhaling anything other than the oxygen/nitrogen mix the body is MEANT to handle will always have nasty side effects after a while...

      Some inhalents are obvious, like CO2, and if you continually inhale helium, you can die. Helium isn't poisonous like CO2 is, but its not oxygen/nitrogen, the body wasn't made to live off of it! Sure, at first nothing seems wrong, in fact, you have a high pitched squeaky voice that is rather amusing and great for parties, but keep it up and that's when it begins to be dangerous...

      I'm sure there is probably something bad within the chemicals themselves that'll manifest over time. The term "throat hit" already has me worried...

    • Joshua Scott profile image
      Author

      Joshua Dalrymple 3 years ago from Naples, Italy

      "Throat hit..." I know it sounds funny. It's the sensation of smoking in your throat.

      And you're right, anything unnatural in your body can't be good for you, but when faced with the alternative, can it be better for you? I think so.

      Thanks again for commenting!

    • Wakerra profile image

      Wakerra 3 years ago

      Pick your poison I guess. Healthier alternative or not, if it's still bad, its bad. Its like filtered cigarettes to non, or lights to non. Healthier? Yes, better alternative? Perhaps not...

    • Joni Douglas profile image

      Joni Douglas 3 years ago

      a very thorough look at E cigarettes. If they can help those who truly want to quit smoking - it's a good thing.

    • Joshua Scott profile image
      Author

      Joshua Dalrymple 3 years ago from Naples, Italy

      Thanks for the comment Joni.

      The way I look at it, products like electronic cigarettes are aimed at existing smokers, who by the way, are generally less concerned with their health. So, if a smoker decides to switch to an electronic cigarette, it does not have to be healthier or safer, it just has to appeal to them.

    • belbaby profile image

      belbaby 3 years ago

      safer i don't know but i have not smoked for 4 months now that's good i hope the thing is now i can't seem to give up my cig-2 othats the e cig i buy i did start on them to get off cigarettes but now i don't want to give this up and now i wonder if i smoke this for a year or maybe 3 or 4 what is it going to do to me so what are people supose to do when it is so hard to get off cigarettes an we turn to the e-cigs now we wonder what is it going to do to us. so i am going to really try to get away from the e-cigs hope i can. thanks for the info

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I'm glad I don't smoke so I don't have to worry whether or not these gadgets are safe or not. Actually it sounds as if they are much safer than cigarettes and the campaign against them is the usual endeavor by the FDA to make a lot of noise in order to justify their budget. Very informative hub!

    • petepr profile image

      No Name 3 years ago from No Where

      Relevent but a bit outdated. Most people know that governments want to ban them because it would kill the tobacco taxes if all smokers switch to them.

      And the e-cig community don't use those small battery lookalikes anymore. They all use big-battery mods and tank systems. Have done for more than a year now.

    • profile image

      Joshua 3 years ago

      It's made the e-liquid distributor market pretty big in recent years as well. Companies like this one: http://www.vaporassociates.com have really taken off. It will be interesting to see where this goes in the future I think. Any info on the amount of people switching to these from conventional cigarettes?

    • profile image

      Djx 3 years ago

      Have been vaping now for 6 weeks and have not touched a regular cigarette since. I was a pack to a pack n half per day smoker for 20 years. Eliminated all the lung cookies and swollen sinuses. Was an easy rapid transition between e-cigs and regular; never had to touch a regular again. Now going from 18 mg to 12 mg. The plan is to decrease consumption, but it may now be a new habit as the overall act and buzz is very enjoyable. I think it is a part of the human make up to become addicted...food, alcohol, sex, running, tv, Facebook, blogs...however, I would highly recommend e-cigs to any smoker trying to quit...just realize that you will need to keep working on giving up the e-cig also. Still has to be better than regular smoking and it will provide one with inspiration and the belief that you can quit...it really is the perfect first step. Also the "throat hit" is the key, the very slight burn and the brief lack or depleted oxygen in the lungs is what gets you hooked, it's the signal that a buzz is coming. Finally the look alike e-cigs with the little light tip don't work, it will make a smoker frustrated and you will spend just much money or go back to regular. Get a refillable vape pen product at least. One more; the vape community is really great, they want you to succeed and are some of the most excited about the product, both sellers and users. Dude, I quit cigarettes...

    • profile image

      MarkH 2 months ago

      How about facts from elsewhere? Let's bypass the W.H.O. who think that all nicotine use is evil, despite the fact that small amounts can be beneficial, and in of itself, doesn't cause cancer or any other issues in the human body when used in very small amounts.

      Let's bypass the FDA whose only goal seems to be the preservation of the status quo, that 'fine' balance between looking after the profits of big pharma and big tobacco; quite simply by ignoring any real evidence presented to them.

      Let us instead look elsewhere, at a place where health care is predicated on saving lives. How about a cancer research organisation for instance?

      http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/cancer-ne...

      Well who'd have guessed that?

      Or perhaps some information from doctors themselves?

      https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/promote-e-cigaret...

      That being from the UK, a place that has free healthcare, where it's about saving lives, and keeping the budgets required to do so as low as possible, instead of bleeding the patient dry of funds.

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