Electronic Cigarettes: A Healthy Alternative?

by Kelvin Naito on February 19, 2014

Woman using an e-cigarette. Is this a safer alternative?
Woman blows out vapor while using an e-cigarette. 

You can virtually smoke them anywhere at anytime. Many manufacturers say it is a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes.  The craze for electronic cigarettes skyrocketed a couple of years ago.  According to The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, it estimates about 4 million Americans use e-cigarettes. Nowadays, you will always see someone smoking an e-cigarette outside every building. You probably saw people smoking these e-cigarettes on the subway or even inside a school building. I remember I was at restaurant and two tables away, I saw someone puffing away on their e-cigarette casually.

I’m sure that you’ve heard about some of their benefits and may have become interested in buying one. But, that information probably came from the manufacturer’s advertisement. Thus they may not be telling you the entire truth. I think that these e-cigarettes are appropriate for people who can’t give up smoking but it is not ideal for everyone. Since I tried the e-cigarette before, I believe that I am qualified to discuss the facts about their pros and cons.

What are E-Cigarettes? How Do They Work?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), e-cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor, and other chemicals. It consists of a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when you puff of the e-cig to stimulate the burn of a tobacco cigarette.  The cartomizer is filled with an e-liquid that usually contains the chemical propylene glycol along with nicotine, flavoring, and other additives. Most e-cigarettes are made to look like traditional cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.

The process of using an e-cigarettes is called “vaping”. When you “vape”, a heating element boils the e-liquid that is inside of the cartomizer until it produces a vapor. According to Dr. Steve Salvatore, these e-cigarettes “deliver nicotine in a form of a water vapor”.  Most of the nicotine gets into the blood stream through the soft tissue in one’s cheeks instead of through your lungs, like a traditional cigarette.

E-Cigarette Pros:

1) It Can Help Tobacco Smokers Quit: E-cigarettes may help transform a tobacco smokers habits to a potentially less harmful e-smoking habit. E-cigarettes satisfies a smoker’s nicotine crave and mimics the physical movements of smoking, without the cancer causing toxins in traditional cigarettes. Dr. Salvatore states, “There is no tobacco, there is no tar, there is no carbon monoxide, and there are no other toxic chemicals”. Also, the Boston University School of Public Health has gone on record saying that “few, if any, chemicals at level detected in electronic cigarettes raise serious health concerns”.

2) Saving Money: According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, it costs more than $1000 a year to feed a pack-a-day tobacco cigarette habit. It may be an investment when you purchase a starter kit, but in the long run you could potentially save money.  Starter kits usually cost between $30-$100. Refill e-liquids cost around $5-$20 dollars depending on the amount you want.  A frequent smoker could make a 15 mL e-liquid bottle last for about 1-2 weeks. Some companies sell cartomizers in a pack of 5 for a low price of $12. Each cartomizer is filled with enough liquid to give you as many puffs as half a pack of traditional cigarettes. Thus, you are getting about 2.5 packs worth of “puffs” for a fraction of the cost of traditional cigarettes.

3) Eliminates Second-hand Smoke: Like many non-cigarette smokers, I hate being around cigarette smoke. It has a bad smell and stings my eyes and lungs every time I walk past a smoker. E-cigarettes users are merely blowing out water vapor. There is exposure to some nicotine in the vapor but studies found that “the exposure to nicotine is lower when compared to exposure from tobacco smoke”. E-cigarettes have a small scent depending on the flavor of the e-liquid that lingers in the air for about a second. Usually you cannot really smell e-cigarette vapor unless you are standing right next to the person vaping.

E-Cigarette Cons:

1) Unknown Health Factors: The FDA states “e-cigarettes have not been fully studied so consumers currently don’t know the potential risk of e-cigarettes when used as intended, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use”. A recent study suggests that nicotine delivered in both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes may still contribute to heart disease. Scientists have exposed cells found in the heart to nicotine. After six hours, a kind of cellular drill called podosome rosettes formed and ate through the heart tissue. Nicotine may reduce a person’s chance of having lung cancer, but it does not mean that their risk of heart disease will go away.

2) Not Regulated by Government: E-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the FDA. The agency is trying to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. The government has no control to what these manufacturers can put in these products. The actual substances used and how much the user inhales is left up to the manufacturer. The FDA is concerned that the marketing efforts of e-cigarettes may increase the addiction to nicotine, especially in kids and teenagers, which may encourage them to experiment with real tobacco products.

3) Nicotine Levels: An electronic cigarette may contain as much or even more nicotine as a regular cigarette. The amount of nicotine that an e-cigarette delivers depends on the content of the e-liquid cartridge. Studies prove that nicotine can have effects to one’s circulatory system and blood sugar.  Many people think an e-cigarette will help them quit smoking, but I don’t believe that’s true. Dr. Ray Casciari explains that, “smokers are very habit driven. When they sit in a certain chair, they want to have a cigarette. At a certain time of the day, after dinner, they want to have a cigarette”. If one wants to eliminate smoking habits, they should use nicotine gum or patches because they eliminate “hand-to-mouth and sensory habits” encouraged by e-cigarettes.


Works Cited:
1) http://vapegrl.com/e-cigarette-pros-and-cons/

2) http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/smoking-cessation/10-facts-about-e-cigarettes1113.htm

3) http://abcnews.go.com/Health/facts-cigarettes/story?id=20345463#5

4) http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/16/health/nicotine-e-cigarettes/

5) http://copd.about.com/od/quittingsmoking/a/E-Cigarettes.htm

6) http://www.bu.edu/sph/2013/09/27/alarm-bells-for-e-cigarettes-premature-and-misguided-siegel-says/

7) http://www.forbes.com/sites/marijkevroomendurning/2013/08/06/what-are-electronic-cigarettes-and-do-they-actually-work/

8) http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/news/20140103/e-cigarettes-separating-fiction-from-fact

9) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/03/electronic-cigarettes_n_3818941.html

10) http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/vapor-e-cigs-nicotine-toxins-tobacco-study-article-1.1565760

11) http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm172906.htm

12) http://www.volcanoecigs.com/

13) Image: http://guardianlv.com/2013/09/e-cigarettes-versus-nicotine-patches-study-compares-efficacy-video/

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