The electronic cigarette has been marketed as an alternative to tobacco since 2007. In recent years, their popularity has skyrocketed. Also known as vape pens, e-hookahs, and water pipes, their sweet, fruity flavors and bright, eye-catching packaging has enabled e-cigarettes to become trendy with a wide range of connoisseurs. By the end of 2013, revenue from e-cigarettes reached approximately $2 billion. If sales continue at this rate, it is possible that they will outsell even traditional cigarettes.
As long as people stop smoking traditional cigarettes, that’s a good thing, right? Public health experts aren’t so sure. Major points of debate surrounding the products are highlighted below:
Filled with liquid nicotine, e-cigarettes do not contain tars (leaf carbon matter) and do not produce second-hand smoke. Though the absence of tars and secondhand smoke makes them safer than traditional cigarettes, ‘safer’ does not necessarily mean safe.
Studies have varied, but electronic cigarettes may contain high levels of cancer-causing metals and chemicals such as glycols, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.
2. Lack of Regulation
Because e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they remain unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has submitted a proposal to include these products within its scope of administration, but unless that proposal is approved, there are no standards on how e-cigarettes are labeled.
This is an issue because manufacturers aren’t always upfront about ingredients or percentages of nicotine content.
3. Impact on Adults
Marketed as a “nicotine replacement product,” electronic cigarettes have been a lifesaver to those trying to quit cigarettes.
However, the unregulated nicotine amount is highly variable, and there is greater potential for excess nicotine when it is delivered as vapor. Coupled with the consumer’s nicotine dependency, the product’s short battery life and refill availability might actually drive higher tobacco consumption.
4. Impact on Youth
Likewise, health professionals worry that youth exposure to the nicotine in e-cigarettes increases the likelihood of them becoming future smokers.
E-cigarettes can easily be acquired at any gas station. Up until May 2014, Georgia law did not recognize a minimum age for purchase (today, Georgia prohibits sales to minors).
5. Impairment of Heart & Lung Function
Some studies on the effects of e-cigarette use have determined that users develop diminished lung function and temporary airway resistance.
Meanwhile, the European Society of Cardiology assures the public that electronic cigarettes only very slightly elevate blood pressure and do not cause any damage to heart.
Limited research on the short- and long-term health impacts of e-cigarettes sometimes contradict. Studies on the products have proven inconsistent and generally leave researchers with more questions than answers. The only point that research does seem to agree on is the increased transmission rate of infectious disease from sharing a mouthpiece.
If you have been using electronic cigarettes and similar products and are concerned about their potential impact on your health, please seek the advice of a trusted health professional that is familiar with your own medical history.