E-Cigarettes (also known as e-cigs, mods, vape pens, or e-hookahs) are electronic devices that mimic regular cigarettes by heating a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales. This liquid usually contains nicotine. E-cigarettes are therefore qualified as a tobacco product because nicotine comes from tobacco.
E-cigarettes are commonly considered “less harmful” than regular cigarettes. That’s because e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and do not involve combustion. The health consequences related to smoking tobacco, like lung cancer and heart disease, are thus not linked to e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes have a reputation as being a harmless alternative to smoking cigarettes and a method of quitting regular cigarettes all together. E-cigarettes certainly smell better than cigarettes, with flavors and colors, like mint and bubblegum, that also give off the impression that e-cigarettes are harmless.
The ingredients in e-cigarettes are not truly harmless. First of all, nicotine is highly addictive. Any drug addiction is harmful to the brain’s development; brain development starts in the womb and continues well into adulthood, around age 25. Nicotine in particular leads to impaired synapse formation (which impacts attention and learning), mood disorders, and lack of impulse control after long-term exposure.
Other ingredients in e-cigarettes have negative health impacts. E-cigarettes contain ultra-fine particles that are harmful to the lungs when deeply inhaled. The flavoring ingredients are damaging, as well. One of the most common flavoring is diacetyl, a chemical linked to lung disease. E-cigarettes also contain organic compounds, like benzene in car exhaust, and heavy metals, like lead.
Another concerning factor is the technique of inhalation of electronic cigarette vapor. “Dripping” is an alternative technique, where the user drips the e-liquid directly into the device’s heating coils so that the vapor is inhaled manually. This technique produces thicker and stronger vapor, providing a better taste. However, with thicker vapor means increased risk of exposure to nicotine, particles, and toxins.
Lastly, e-cigarettes can often serve as a gateway to other tobacco products, of which we know the full health consequences: regular cigarettes, cigars, hookah, smokeless tobacco, etc. It can even be a gateway to other substances like alcohol or marijuana. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that non-smoking youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try regular cigarettes than non-smoking youth who do not use e-cigarettes.
It is interesting to note that advertisements and commercials for cigarettes are highly regulated in the United States to prevent adolescents and other non-smokers from taking up the habit. In contrast, there is no government regulation on e-cigarettes. The colorful, attractive packaging with deceptive language like “Zen” and “Healthy” are misleading. Because there is so little regulation, we need to educate ourselves on the harms of e-cigarettes before choosing to use them.
by Charlotte Pillow
Peer Health Advocate
Class of 2019