Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe?
There has been a lot of discussion and misinformation over the past few years regarding electronic cigarettes. If you already vape, you have probably heard references to the “dangerous chemicals” the FDA says e-cigs contain. Oddly enough, this lecture usually comes from smokers, who are apparently quite comfortable with the poisons they are inhaling! It’s true that the Food and Drug Administration and some anti-smoking organizations have publicized some pretty negative and largely questionable information regarding e-cigs.
There are plenty of political and profit motives at work here and that subject will be saved for another day. In general, though, the FDA runs a pay-to-play operation that depends on the approval process to fund the organization. They want a drug approved before it is released and the electronic cigarette industry has failed in that regard. The administration is adamant that the electronic cigarette should be considered a drug because otherwise it is a tobacco product which is not subject to nearly as much of their oversight. Other organizations essentially are concerned because the electronic cigarette just looks and acts too much like a the real thing, which they hate with a passion. Update: in April of 2011, the FDA announced that it will comply with court rulings and will regulate the electronic cigarette as a tobacco product. While specific rules or guidelines have not been announced, this is generally considered to be good news for electronic cigarette users.
This negativity campaign is a shame, as e-cigs are one of the most promising smoking alternatives to ever come along. Electronic cigarettes still deliver nicotine, but none of the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. While nicotine is addictive, it has not been demonstrated to be harmful on its own. According to an article published by staff at the Mayo clinic, “While it’s the nicotine in tobacco that keeps you hooked, the toxic effects come mainly from other substances in tobacco, none of which are present in any meaningful level in an electronic cigarette. Smokers have significantly higher rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer.” Nicotine in itself is not a killer, but it’s guilty by association with cigarettes.
Quitting smoking is the healthiest thing a smoker can do and getting nicotine in another form can help. As Dr. Jonathan Foulds, director of the Tobacco Dependence Program at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health puts it, “Going back to cigarettes is not only dangerous, it’s deadly, quitting smoking is hard work and nicotine replacement products are safe to use for as long as it takes to kick the tobacco addiction. In fact, some individuals may need to use more than one NRT product at the same time to finally quit.” Another of their papers states that, “Nicotine patches, gum and lozenges do not cause cancer, emphysema or heart attacks, even for smokers who already have had heart attacks or heart disease. And using NRT does not create a new addiction. Smokers are already addicted to nicotine and NRT products deliver less nicotine than cigarettes.” Addiction can never be called a good thing, but for those who are already addicted, why not promote a safer alternative? Electronic cigarettes are no more dangerous than any of the other stop smoking aids which are already available. If you’ve made it this far in your research, however, you already know that thousands of smokers have demonstrated the electronic cigarette to be a much more effective alternative.
Nicotine is not the only ingredient in e-liquid (the liquid used to provide the vapor in an electronic cigarette). Most liquids are mixed using a combination of Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerine (VG) and flavorings, none of which are deemed harmful.
PG gets the most bad press, but “it does not cause sensitization and shows no evidence of being a carcinogen or of being genotoxic,” according to DOW chemical’s website. And according to the , Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PG is a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) additive for foods and medications. Propylene glycol rarely causes toxic effects, and then only under very unusual circumstances.” Some fear-mongers have tried to arouse worry over the use of PG in various personal care and pharmaceutical products by dwelling on the fact that it is used in antifreeze. The truth is that it is used in a non-toxic antifreeze and is often confused with diethylene glycol which is considered toxic but even that only in much larger concentrations than we are talking about here. As some personal vaporizer users have noticed, it can be mildly irritating to the throat and eyes, but no long term effects have been recorded.
Vegetable Glycerine (VG) or Glycerol has seen a large increase in usage in e-liquids primarily because it produces more vapor than PG. VG is used in many foods and beverages and is safe for human consumption. When mixing juices, USP grade VG should be used.
As with VG, the flavorings used in electronic cigarette e-liquids are also primarily food grade, so there is no cause for concern over them. Some tobacco flavors are developed using real tobacco leaves, so there is the potential for the presence of trace amounts of nitrosamines, but again only trace amounts. Some studies, most notably an FDA study that is largely recognized as flawed, found amounts of other chemicals with amounts are so small as to be insignificant in individual cartridges.
The only informed conclusion that can be reached at this point in the history of the electronic cigarette is that they are relatively safe. If that statement sounds just a little uncertain, it’s because it is meant to be. There have simply been no long term studies of the affects of prolonged vaping. All we know is that the ingredients are safe and that no negative health impacts have been reported, even though they have been in use for several years.
The real question should be whether electronic cigarette are safer. When compared to the burning tobacco that they replace, the answer is an unequivocal YES! Perhaps the American Association of Public Health Physicians (AAPHP) white paper states it best. “The AAPHP Task Force, on the basis of extensive literature review and analysis, has concluded that a national harm reduction initiative, based partly on the potential attractiveness of electronic cigarettes to current smokers, could save the lives of 4 million of the 8 million current adult American smokers who will otherwise die of a tobacco-related illness over the next 20 years.”