For those of us looking to kick the terrible smoking habit which claims approximately six million lives every year globally, vaporizers and e-cigarettes (e-cigs) seem like a great alternative. These new tobacco products—which mimic the act of smoking—have had some measurable success in helping smokers quit, but questions about their safety are still being examined.
E-cigarettes, which include e-pens, e-pipes, e-hookah and e-cigars, are known collectively as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), e-cigarettes are devices that allow users to inhale an aerosol (vapor) containing nicotine or other substances. Unlike the traditional cigarette, e-cigs are generally battery-operated and use a heating element to heat e-liquid from a refillable cartridge, releasing a chemical-filled aerosol.
According to the American Lung Association, “the main component of e-cigarettes is the e-liquid contained in cartridges.” To create an e-liquid, nicotine is extracted from tobacco and mixed with a base (usually propylene glycol), and may also include flavorings and chemicals.
Because there is no government oversight of these products, nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigarettes are on the market—all without an FDA evaluation. This makes it impossible for anyone, including healthcare professionals and consumer, to know what chemicals are contained in e-liquids, or how e-cigarette use might affect health, whether in the short-term or in the long run.
The American Lung Association reports that early studies show that e-cigarettes contain nicotine and also may have other harmful chemicals, including carcinogens. Nicotine, as many may already know, is an unsafe addictive substance found in cigarettes and almost all e-cigs—even most of those that claim to be nicotine-free.
One of the biggest concerns stemming from e-cigs and vaporizers is that because they are not FDA-approved, and because they are still relatively new to the market, it is difficult to gauge exactly how hazardous they may be to a person’s health. But in initial lab tests conducted in 2009, the FDA reportedly found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, including an ingredient used in antifreeze in two leading brands of e-cigs and various cartridges. Just five years later, in 2014, another study found that aerosol from some e-cigs with higher voltage levels contained more formaldehydean—another toxin that has been linked to cancer.
The reality is, while e-cigs technically better for you than smoking, research has shown that many e-cig users are still smoking conventional cigarettes. In 2013, nearly 77 percent of people who recently used e-cigarettes also smoke regular cigarettes.
The bottom line is, unless you are using e-cigs and vaporizers to quit entirely, picking up a new and unregulated e-smoking habit will not do you any good. Pretty much anything is better than lighting up a cigarette, so if given a choice between the two, e-cigs have fewer known side effects—but this does not mean that e-cigs don’t have health hazards; we just don’t know what the possible hazards are yet.