The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not addressed whether electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are safer than traditional cigarettes; however, the July 22, 2009 news release by the FDA announced its laboratory analysis based on testing two of the leading brands of e-cigarettes and found that they contained both carcinogens and toxic chemicals. However, the FDA also cautioned that testing of two brands is not conclusive for all electronic cigarettes. All e-cigarettes are not the same. There are various “recipes” used that may include different chemicals.
Specifically, the FDA detected diethylene glycol in one cartridge at approximately 1%. The FDA also found tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are carcinogens, in about half of the samples. Compared to traditional cigarettes, the carcinogens and toxins found in the two samples tested by the FDA do not seem as dangerous as traditional cigarettes.
According to the Lung Association’s “Smoking 101 Fact Sheet”, traditional cigarettes contain 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer, including benzene (petrol additive), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), ammonia, acetone, tar, carbon monoxide, arsenic, lead, nickel, chromium, to name a few.
E-cigarettes have been touted as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. They were first introduced to the world around 2003. Since their appearance on the market, e-cigarettes have been highly controversial. An e-cigarette is typically shaped like a traditional cigarette. It is actually a metal tube with an atomizer, a battery, and a cartridge. The cartridge delivers liquid nicotine to the inhaler, although the milligrams of nicotine may vary. The user can purchase various cartridges, with varying degrees of nicotine, as well as flavored cartridges. Flavors can include chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and traditional tobacco flavor. Some e-cigarettes are disposable, while others are sold with a rechargeable battery. The atomizer turns the liquid nicotine into vapor, mimicking the feel and look of smoke. However, there is no smoke emitted, only vapor. Because there is no smoke involved, using e-cigarettes is called vaping rather than smoking. One of the main attractions for smokers who convert to e-cigarettes is the fact that they can vape almost anywhere, as there is no second-hand smoke to impact other people. The vapors emitted from e-cigarettes dissipate quickly, leaving no harmful smoke in the air.
The controversy surrounding e-cigarettes may have to do with the fact that makers of e-cigarettes are not being regulated. Hence, the product may vary considerably, and there is no way to definitively know what the user is inhaling.
A second major concern of e-cigarettes in the United States is the fact that concept of vaping may attract young people. E-cigarettes are available in a variety of flavors that may also be appealing to young people. Since, e-cigarettes deliver liquid nicotine (which the body is able to break down), the inhaler will still become addicted to nicotine.
As an alternative to traditional smoking for people who currently smoke, vaping seems to be the better of the two choices. Obviously, abstinence is the best, however, that is not always going to happen. Smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes claim that they have lost their smoker’s cough and feel better overall. E-cigarettes are not a practical way to quit smoking, as the nicotine delivered still supplies the smoker with the addicting substance. Also, vaping still provides the ex-smoker with the same behavioral traits as smoking (holding the “cigarette”, inhaling and exhaling vapors like smoking, and the delivery of nicotine into the body).
The most recent findings by the FDA prove that vaping is not as healthy an alternative as some e-cigarette manufacturers may want to claim. For the most part, e-cigarettes are still an unknown. But, traditional smoking is a known, and has been proven to cause an estimated 438,000 American lives every year (American Lung Association, Smoking 101 Fact Sheet).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA News Release, FDA and Public Health Exports Warn About Electronic Cigarettes, http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm173222.htm, July 22, 2009
American Lung Association, Smoking 101 Fact Sheet, http://www.lungusa.org/site/c.dvLUK9O0E/b.39853/k.5D05/Smoking_101_Fact_Sheet.htm, August 2008