The truth behind e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are an ingenious revamp of original cigarettes. For smokers, they appear to be a novel way of smoking, without the serious side effects. Smoke contains all sorts of nasty chemicals: tar, carcinogens (benzopyrene), toxins, carbon monoxide and other particulates. These cause untold damage to the health of the smoker- lung disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis are all examples of diseases caused by chemicals in smoke. Evidently, since e-cigarettes do not contain these detrimental chemicals, they must be healthier. E-cigarettes only contain nicotine, which is the addictive agent. The difference in risk between both types of cigarettes is vast, and without a doubt e-cigarettes are safer to use.

How do e-cigarettes work?

The atomizer embedded in the e-cigarette converts liquid nicotine into a mist or vapour. Flavorings are added to make the entire package more enticing. They require no match or lighting, being lithium battery powered, and produce no smoke, fire or ash. Some brands have an LED at one end, lighting up as the smoker inhales to stimulate the experience of smoking.

But are they ‘healthy’?

Conventional cigarettes are known to contain more than 4000 chemicals and carcinogens. Yet, although e-cigarettes are ‘safer’, are they still ‘safe’? US research found that the vapour from these cigarettes could harm the lungs, making them more susceptible to respiratory infections.  In addition, free radicals were discovered in e-cigarette vapour. These are highly reactive, capable of damaging DNA amongst other molecules, leading to cell death and potentially cancer. However, the amount of free radicals pales in comparison to cigarette smoke, which has 100 times more free radicals. As already mentioned, e-cigarettes still contain one key component of cigarette smoke: nicotine. Thus, e-cigarettes are addictive, and those who use them will most likely experience withdrawal symptoms when quitting.

Studies on the chemical composition of e-cigarettes highlighted how the flavourings are a source of certain toxic chemicals. For example, traces of formaldehyde and diethylene glycol (what anti-freeze is made of) were detected.

What are the fears for e-cigarettes?

As epidemiology goes, the true effects of e-cigarettes can only truthfully be assessed in 20-30 years or so, when links can be made between e-cigarettes and decline in health. In the future, will we be facing an e-cigarette smoking epidemic?

Are e-cigarettes encouraging previous non-smokers to take up this hobby, and are young people being encouraged to vape? These are all questions being brought up in the debate on this new phenomenon.

Finally, is vaping as unacceptable as smoking? Over the years there has been a steep decline in smoking, partially due to the lack of advertising and the negative connotations smoking now has. The popularity of e-cigarette vaping is rising, and new advertisements are increasing its attractiveness. Is this morally right? I guess we will have to wait to find out. – An article in the BBC discusses the potential plans of the NHS to prescribe e-cigarettes to those wishing to kick the habit. Current research shows that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. There are over 80,000 deaths annually due to smoking, which could be slashed to 4,000 if e-cigarettes were used instead. But do the benefits out weight the costs? At the moment the NHS spends over £49 million on smoking stopping measures (such as nicotine patches). By prescribing e-cigarettes,  a starter pack would add £20 for each individual, and an extra £10 would cover the cost of the replaceable fluid cartridges. Will it be worth it?

Update! In the Telegraph recently there was an article about an incident involving an e-cigarette. The e-cigarette had burst and the piping hot nicotine had burnt a hole through his right lung, reducing its capacity to 25% and resulting in numerous visits to A&E…


One thought on “The truth behind e-cigarettes

  1. In France I saw loads of kids smoking e-cigarettes and dozens of shops! It’s like a massive trend over there, but I really don’t see the appeal of it. However it was interesting to find out about the science behind it – looks like it may not be as safe as we all think…

    Liked by 1 person

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