Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, are battery-powered devices filled with flavored, nicotine-laced water that is inhaled as steam which is meant to substitute for the experience of smoking.
Often marketed a safe alterative to conventional smoking, these e-cigs in fact pose different health effects that are partially unknown and comparability unregulated.
In spite of the fact that the dangers are partially unknown, the use of these devices has skyrocketed in recent years. They have become particularly popular among young adults and teens who might not otherwise be using tobacco at all.
Its increasing popularity demands we take a closer look at what the health risks of this new trend might be.
According to 2014 Youth Tobacco Survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, use of these "electronic cigarettes" among junior and high school students has tripled from 2013 to 2014. 13 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, while only 9 percent smoke traditional cigarettes.
The number of teens who smoke cigarettes, pipes, and cigars is declining rapidly, yet at the same time, the number of teens who use any kind of tobacco product is increasing for the first time in years, largely due to the popularity of e-cigarettes.
Insiders in the e-cig industry claim that e-cigarettes are primarily used by people trying to quit smoking. In fact, the Youth Tobacco Survey reveled that cigarette use among teens has declined at its fastest rate ever, dropping 25% between 2013 and 2014.
While some people have expressed concern that e-cigarettes may serve as a "gateway" to smoking, it may instead be acting as a change of mindset. While there may be some merit to the claim that moving from cigarettes to vaping may be safer, it does not take into account the large number of people attracted to e-cigs when they would otherwise not be consuming nicotine at all.
Teenagers in particular have been effectively discouraged by education against smoking and consider it disgusting and un-cool, but are attracted to the trend of e-cigarettes due to its growing popularity, and the taste. Many E-cigs and vaporizers come with different forms of e-liquid in a wide variety of flavors, including tastes like fruit or candy that appeal to the young.
According to a young e-cig user interviewed by Sabrina Tavernise in a New York Times article published April 16, 2015, regular cigarettes have a harsh and "gross" flavor that's unappealing, but the sweet fruity e-cigarettes are far more popular. It also offers a mix-and-match set of accessories, allowing each individual user to call his or her own.
E-cigarettes still deliver highly addictive nicotine, but lack the tar and other dangerous chemicals of traditional smoking, so in that sense, may be safer than traditional cigarettes.
However, the Food and Drug Administration is only now beginning to take steps towards regulating e-cigs and studies are still inconclusive about what the long-term health effects of vaping may be. Dr. Margaret Hamburg of the FDA calls it "the wild, wild west," as products are coming out and evolving faster than researches can test their safety or regulate.
Analyzing samples of two popular brands, the FDA found that the level of nicotine in e-cig juice varies considerably from bottle to bottle, and that there are traces of carcinogens, cancer causing substances. This preliminary study supports their claim that e-cigs are not completely safe of the dangers of smoking, and should be treated with the same level of caution, warning, and regulatory oversight as other tobacco products.
A study from John Hopkins University published in Plos One February 2015 showed that mice exposed to e-cig vapor suffered damaged lungs and were far more likely to have respiratory infections.
More research needs to be known about the potential health risks, but until then, the safe decision would be to refrain from e-cigarettes. They are not a totally safe-alternative to smoking, and likely cannot provide the safe and effective way to quit smoking as medications with FDA approval.