Vaping has become what retired pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm describes as the status symbol of the 21st century. While many men, women, and adolescents have picked up the habit, the American Lung Association and FDA still question whether e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to tobacco.
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes, or e-cigs for short, are electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Unlike traditional cigarettes, ENDS employ a refillable nicotine cartridge and heating element to release a chemical-filled vapor instead of smoke, says Marla Ahlgrimm. E-cigs utilize a flavored liquid mixed with tobacco extract and propylene glycol. The American Lung Association reports that it is unclear exactly what other chemicals are in e-cigarettes. In 2009, lab tests found cancer-causing substances in two of the most popular e-cig cartridges. A follow-up study in 2014 found that higher voltage e-cigarette devices released considerable levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen.
Marla Ahlgrimm explains that flavored e-cigarette cartridges are a major concern. These fun flavors are used to target teenagers. The FDA has reported that diacetyl, a chemical often used in butter-flavored dairy products and pre-packaged popcorn, has been found in a number of e-cigarette flavors. Diacetyl has been linked to an irreversible lung disease aptly named “popcorn lung.”
There is growing concern about the safety of secondhand emissions from e-cigarette vapors, reports Marla Ahlgrimm. A number of anecdotal reports uncovered an alarming trend of people using vapor products where traditional tobacco is prohibited. This poses a potential threat to not only the user, but to the people around them. The secondhand aerosol produced by e- cigarettes contains a number of carcinogens, including benzene and nitrosamines.
The bottom line
E-cigarettes are unquestionably a tobacco product, says Marla Ahlgrimm. Because they are aggressively marketed toward children it is increasingly important for agencies, such as the FDA, to impose access restrictions in order to help prevent today’s youth from becoming the next generation of nicotine addicts.
Smokers interested in learning how to quit without resorting to potentially dangerous alternatives can visit lung.org/smoke-free for tips on how to kick the habit for good.