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E-Cigarettes: Are They As Safe As You Think?

Updated on May 13, 2016
Au fait profile image

C. E. Clark believes it is her duty and responsibility as a researcher and writer to bring important information to her readers .

E-Cigarettes Are Marketed Under the Guise That They Are Healthful and Safe to Use, but Is Nicotine Ever Safe?

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are supposedly the more healthful, more socially acceptable answer, to smoking conventional tobacco cigarettes, yet they still contain highly addictive and toxic nicotine. Did you know that for a time nicotine was used in the U.S. as an insecticide and a fumigant? More recently, scientists have linked nicotine to an impaired immune system (Scientific American: Are E-Cigarettes Safe? May 2014 issue).

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), nicotine affects the heart and nervous system and can become fatal quickly in even small amounts. It can be ingested, inhaled, and absorbed through the skin. Nicotine is believed to cause delayed healing of wounds as well as reproductive disorders (Oxford Journals). Nicotine is basically a toxin.

This is the way e-cig smokers are using their product.
This is the way e-cig smokers are using their product. | Source

Propylene Glycol Is the Second Main Ingredient In E-Cigarettes but Is It Safe to Inhale? Heavy Metals May Also Be Emitted In the Vapor of E-Cigs. What About Q

Propylene glycol is another ingredient in e-cigs. It is frequently added to medicines, foods, and cosmetic products to absorb water while at the same time keeping them moist. Propylene glycol is an organic compound that is generally considered safe to eat in small amounts or for slathering onto your body along with soap or shampoo, but there is no proof that it is safe to inhale it.

There are many products that are safe to eat that would not be safe to inhale, and that would damage the lungs if inhaled. Propylene glycol is used not only in food, medicines, and cosmetics, but also in paint and plastics and it is used to create fake fog in theatrical productions as well as for other industrial purposes.

Only a couple of small studies have been done involving animals, not humans, in regard to the safety of propylene glycol as an inhalant. According to Scientific American magazine, “Are E-Cigarettes Safe?, May 2014 issue, the U.S. federal agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states on its website that it has very little information regarding the inhalation of this compound. As a result, it could be foolhardy to assume propylene glycol is safe when inhaled.

The article previously referenced in the May 2014 issue of Scientific American further states that various studies have shown the vapors from e-cigarettes contain carcinogenic substances as well as tiny particles of tin, nickel, chromium, and other heavy metals which can damage the lungs. It is the heating of the chemicals that changes them — it is not uncommon for normally safe chemicals to turn into dangerous chemicals with a heating process — and the natural wearing of the components of the delivery device that creates problems, i.e., “nanoparticles” of heavy metals.

Such tiny nanoparticles have the ability to travel deep into the lungs. There is not yet sufficient data to determine if these tiny nanoparticles may exacerbate emphysema, asthma, bronchitis, or various kinds of inflammation in the lungs, air sacs in the lungs, or tubes that carry air to those air sacs.

Apparently quality control in the manufacture of e-cigarettes is particularly low, making it questionable as to exactly what is going into them, so says Stanton Glantz, Director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

Laws Regarding Who Can Legally Purchase or Use E-Cigarettes

Dina Fine Maron states in her article in the May 2014 issue of Scientific American (Are E-Cigarettes Safe?), that e-cigs are very popular with both teens and preteens. Data from the CDC shows that e-cigarette use among U.S. high school students more than doubled, from 4.7% in 2011 to 10% in 2012. While new laws in most states prohibit the sale or use or possession of e-cigs by persons under 18, it is still probable that the numbers stated above have increased to some extent.

Teenagers and preteens who have never even tried conventional tobacco cigarettes are getting on the bandwagon to use e-cigs because, for one thing, they imagine them to be safe. Of course peer pressure is usually the strongest incentive for young people in those age groups, but the belief that what they are doing is safe only encourages the use of e-cigs.

The primary ingredients in e-cigarettes are nicotine, propylene glycol, and flavoring. Among the common e-cig flavors available are piña colada, bubble gum, cookies and cream, strawberry, gummy bear, and chocolate, to name a few. These flavors are especially attractive to teenagers.

Currently 41 states have laws restricting the age of e-cigarette customers. I’m glad to see that several states have taken steps to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to preteens and teenagers since I first wrote about this issue. Some states even make it illegal for underage persons to possess e-cigarettes. Some states that require a person to be at least 18 or 19 years old to purchase e-cigarettes include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

The following states prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to ‘minors’ but do not state in the documents I viewed exactly how old a minor is in their state. Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire. There were 9 states and the District of Columbia for which I could find no current information stating the minimal age one had to be to purchase e-cigarettes, so states not mentioned here may have laws regarding this issue, but I was unable to obtain the information as of this writing. The information here was provided by the Pubic Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was last updated on May 15, 2015.

As you might imagine, there is a lot of money involved in e-cigs and some of that money will make its way to our law makers, so do not be surprised if laws are slow to pass and soft even once they are passed.

The different looks of E-Cigs

A selection of the different styles of electronic cigarettes.
A selection of the different styles of electronic cigarettes. | Source

How E-Cigarettes Work

Electronic cigarettes have a small coil that vaporizes a nicotine-laced solution into an aerosol mist or vapor when heated. The user inhales that mist. The cigarette is battery operated and requires no lighter or matches.

The cartridges containing the highly addictive nicotine as well as the flavoring typically last about as long as it would take to smoke a pack of 20 tobacco filled cigarettes, so the cartridges must be replaced periodically.

The person who uses the e-cigarette may be puffing away blowing the smoke like a conventional cigarette smoker, so it may be hard to tell the difference between the e-cigs and classic tobacco loaded cigarettes when you see someone smoking. The e-cigarette often looks like a classic tobacco cigarette, too, and it even has a light emitting diode on the end that lights up when the user inhales, but there is no tobacco involved and no ashes.

However, there are also several models of e-cigs that do not look like the tobacco filled cigarettes most people are familiar with. Starter kits for e-cigarettes and pipes start at $20. Cartridges containing the flavoring and Nicotine average about $10 - $12 each.

An e-cigarette has three main parts:

  • A rechargeable lithium battery similar to those used in cell phones
  • A vaporization chamber contains electronic controls and an atomizer
  • A cartridge that contains the flavored liquid to be vaporized

Since most states are taking steps to regulate who may purchase e-cigarettes, the most important message here is that e-cigarettes are not carcinogenic free. Due to a lack of quality control, the different e-cigarette products vary in the amount of toxins they contain and the limits of their carcinogenic potential (Cleveland Clinic). If you don’t already smoke conventional cigarettes, don’t start with e-cigs.

The parts of an E-cigarette

An explanation of the different parts of an e-cigarette.
An explanation of the different parts of an e-cigarette. | Source


Scientific American, May 2014 issue, “Are E-Cigarettes Safe?” by Dina Fine Maron.

How E-Cigarettes Work

Nicotine toxic and previously used as an insecticide

Oxford Journals: Toxicological Sciences

Public Health Law Center

Health Essentials Cleveland Clinic


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 weeks ago from North Texas

      Peggy Woods, thank you for commenting. Agree with all you say. Really a shame that drugs, both legal and illegal, alcohol, and tobacco have ruined so many lives, and worse, continue to do so in these 'enlightened' times.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      There is definitely more information out there today about the health risks of those E-Cigarettes than previously. It is a shame when people start smoking in this day and age despite all the evidence as to what it is doing to themselves as well as people around them.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 23 months ago from North Texas

      Peggy, I don't understand what could have become of it either. There is more and more about this site that makes no sense it seems. I don't even know why some comments end up in the Spam folder in the first place. Comments from other hubbers, not outsiders. But yours isn't even there, so I have no idea what's happening. I very much appreciate when you take the time to comment, and I wish I had an answer for what could have happened. Thank you for the tweet too.

      Try to stay cool. Only 4 months more and it should start to cool off again. :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 23 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I don't understand what could have happened because I know I had read this and would definitely have commented. Oh you have two. Will give it another tweet as well.

      Try and stay cool up there during these sizzling summer months in Texas. :)

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 23 months ago from North Texas

      Peggy W., thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue and for sharing this article with others! I am so glad I never started smoking and I hate the smell of it no matter what kind of cigarette it happens to be.

      I checked my spam folder to make sure one of your comments were sidelined there by whoever it is that decides to do that way too often. I didn't find anything, so maybe you were thinking of my article on bottled water. I know they're totally different subjects, but I find my brain putting them together often times so maybe yours does too. They must have some commonality that our subconscious is aware of but that doesn't stand out to our conscious mind.

      Thank you again for sharing. Hope you are staying cool down there!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 23 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I could have sworn that I had read this and commented previously but I do not see it. Good article!

      I am so glad that I was never even tempted to smoke. Both of my parents did but gave it up in later years. I would never have married a man who smoked. I really am sensitive to second hand smoke from an eye and throat irritating factor...not to mention the more adverse possible effects.

      When my parents started smoking all of the information about how harmful it can be was not yet publicized. Movie characters as well as television characters promoted it and made it look sexy and desirable.

      With all of the publicity now...AND the cost!...I am amazed that kids pick up the habit. It is highly addictive as everyone who tries to quit knows from experience.

      Sharing this! Stay cool up there in AC. It is sizzling down here now.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Au Fait, you're very welcome my friend. I'm sorry for your loss.. I do miss her.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Kristen Howe, thank you for taking time to read this article and share your thoughts. I'm so sorry to hear about your mother. My mother died of cancer (never smoked or drank) when I was just 18 and I have missed her ever since. I know from your writing that you miss your mother so very much too. Thank you again for stopping by.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub, Au Fait. This was real interesting to know. Before my mother died, she used e-cigarettes for about 3 months to help break her habit. She preferred the original kind. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Jay J 2 years ago

      Interesting hub you got here.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Yes, I did wonder about the initials, C.E......but I understand now that Misty is an endearing nickname. That makes it even nicer!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Paula (Fpherj48), thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on this subject. Also for your high praise. Wish HP agreed with you. They just keep lowering my hubber score continually.

      Very interesting about the reservations near you. They may indeed get the last laugh yet. First they'll get all the money and then the satisfaction.

      Actually, many of the same poisons in conventional tobacco are also in the vaping capsules. Heavy metals, nicotine, etc.

      Bobby likes to call me Misty, but it's not actually my name as you can tell when you check my initials on my profile page; C. E. Clark. Misty IS a pretty name, and a bit of an endearment where Bobby is concerned.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Sharon, thank you for checking out this article. I really hate these things and I hate being around anyone who's smoking them.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Au fait. Excellent article with valuable info. In my particular area of NY, we are surrounded by 3 very large Indian Reservations. I mention this because~~~~Our Native Americans are quite "wealthy," due to the tax free gas, cigarettes, (everything actually is tax free....)and they have the Casinos as well on all 3 reservations.

      In terms of cost...there goes a perfectly valid excuse to quit smoking.

      While the little killers go for 8 to 9 $$ a pack off the Rez....they're $2.50 a pack on the Rez and cheaper by the carton. (That may tell you a bit about how much TAX is on a pack of smokes!!)

      Anyway, ironically, every smoke shop on the Rez have now an entire section and elaborate display of the "vapor" apparatus. They're pretty smart marketers. They get everyone covered.

      You can hear all about the pros & cons just by listening where ever you go. Safer, yes, they are to a degree, simply because the other X number of poisons in cigarettes are not in the vapor smokes....but "safe?"'re right, they're not of course.

      There's a white man's inside joke in this neck of the woods, au fait.....The Native Americans have finally avenged their maltreatment by the white man. They're not only becoming wealthy, but they're selling us the gas to drive to their casinos and loading us up with cheap cigarettes. The white man hopes the cigarettes will kill them before they gamble their lives into total ruination, with just enough gas left for someone to steal their car!!

      Maybe this is what's called "The last laugh!"....

      (I am NOT a gambler!)

      Great job done on this hub, Au fait.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Paul Kuehn, thank you for sharing your experiences with this product. Agree that the man you mentioned was providing a very bad example and was very inconsiderate towards the rest of you, too.

      Congratulations on quitting the smoking habit for nearly 21 years!! I'm proud of you. With tobacco genetically engineered to be as addictive as possible, not like the tobacco of old that was still pretty bad, I think quitting smoking is one of the hardest things anyone can do. So glad you succeeded.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Bobby (Diogenes), this is something you and I agree on completely. I really hate e-cigs as much as the conventional cigs. A burned out building has a superior scent and I hate that too. They're all disgusting.

      Hope you are well and taking good care of yourself; and having a good weekend. Take care . . . xox

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago from Texas

      Wow! Au fait, this is a lot of information to inhale all at one, I am glad you are telling everyone about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

      Hope everything is working out for you.

      Blessings and hugs my dear friend

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Au fait, thank you for sharing a very educational and well-researched hub, I first became aware of e-cigs in 2013 when one of my teaching colleagues in Thailand was vaping in his teaching office shared with other teachers. The school administration found nothing wrong with this; however, students passing by his office could not help but see him vaping. It was definitely setting a bad example for students. On June 30, I will be nicotine free for 21 years! I am sharing this with HP followers and on Facebook with my followers.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 2 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Misty: These things are a disgusting abomination with the dubious advantage they may shorten the lives of the idiots who have seized upon them.

      Big Tobacco at it again. They must pray there is no creator waiting to hold them to acount one day.

      It is even legal to advertise them on TV! It won't last I suppose as the first arrivals in A and E swear they have only ever vaped...ha, what a name eh? Vaping for the vapid!

      Another important article sweeite

      Good night here Bob

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      I have replaced one of my hubs that wasn't performing well with new content on an entirely different subject, so it won't be promoted to my followers the way a new hub would be. So I'm sharing it with my followers myself so that you all will know about it.


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