To vape or not to vape, that is the question

While many argue that e-cigs are safer alternatives to cigarettes, studies show nicotine in e-cigs can still cause health issues. (Photo Illustration by George Walker | The Collegian)

Maybe you saw someone on campus using one. Perhaps it was a family member or a close friend. Maybe you use one yourself and wonder whether they are safer than traditional cigarettes.

Whatever the answer might be, there is still a question about whether e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes.

According to the data website Statistic Brain, 45 million people in the U.S. smoke cigarettes and 2.5 million people use e-cigs as of July 2014. The website also shows that out of the 45 million people who smoke, 2.7 percent have tried e-cigs.

These statistics make you wonder just how many people understand how an e-cig works, what’s in the “juice” e-cigs use, where its components are manufactured and how safe it is.

Where did e-cigs start?

According to e-cig website Ever Smoke, e-cigs have been around for some time – dating back to 1963 when Herbert A. Gilbert, the man who designed the first e-cig, filed a patent for this type of product. He was way ahead of his time for such an invention. During this time, traditional cigarettes were common in society and people were allowed to smoke in many public places. Traditional cigarettes were a social part of everyday life and were not thought to be necessarily unhealthy or dangerous.

In 2003, Chinese pharmacist Han Lik, who lost his father to lung cancer, developed the first e-cig that went to market. He created a method that allowed smokers to get nicotine from inhalation without having to smoke traditional cigarettes. The success spread and many countries quickly embraced the e-cig.

The e-cig moved into the U.S. market in 2007. The first international organization to mention the e-cig was the World Health Organization, who avoided talks on whether they were safe or not. The only thing WHO banned was e-cigs being referred to as smoking cessation devices. By doing this, it gave e-cigs credibility by having no bad effects related to them.

This caused massive amounts of studies to be done; information and press all in a positive way making the public believe that they were safe. Studies done by Health New Zealand and Ruyan revealed that e-cigs contained no questionable chemicals present at toxic levels. Testing also showed that e-cigs were 100 to 1000 times less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

The ingredients

If consumers compare an e-cig with a traditional cigarette, the results are staggering.

According to the American Lung Association, there are more than 600 chemicals in a cigarette, but when they are burned there are more than 7,000. Out of these 7,000, 69 are known to cause cancer. Some of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke include acetone, acetic acid, ammonia, arsenic, benzene, butane, cadmium carbon, formaldehyde, hexamine, lead, naphthalene, methanol, nicotine, tar and toluene.

One local e-cig retailer said e-cig juice contains a minimal amount of ingredients.

“There are only three ingredients found in e-cig juice, and they include propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and nicotine – which is optional – and artificial flavor, depending on what type of juice you buy,” said Courtney Kirby, manager of Juicy’s Vapor Lounge located at 1203 Moro St.

The type of propylene glycol used in e-cigs is a food additive and preservative, which comes from propylene oxide – a byproduct of petroleum that has been ruled as safe by the FDA.

Vegetable glycerin is a natural organic glycerol made from vegetable oil; this is used in some types of e-cig juice.

The last ingredient, nicotine, is extracted from the tobacco and measured out into the juice. Consumers can get different levels of nicotine ranging from 0-36 milligrams.

What can be found in the vapor of an e-cig?

A study by the Center for Tobacco Products shows that e-cigs do not pose any serious health effects. Researchers tested the brand of e-cig called Ruyan V8 e-cig for cigarette related toxins and found none. They also found that the emissions or vapor from e-cigs was 15 times lower than that of traditional cigarettes.

The other components of e-cigs include a rechargeable battery, a charger, a tank or cartridge (depending on what type of e-cig consumers buy), and the atomizer or coil which heats the liquid to cause the vapor.

There are two types of e-cigs: one looks like a real cigarette and the other is known as a mod or clearomizer. The one that resembles a real cigarette uses a cartridge that has the atomizer and juice already inside, which screws onto a battery. The mod has a tank to put the juice inside with a dropper that is built into the bottle of juice. The tank then screws onto a battery.

E-cigs work when users take a drag from the device and the liquid mixture heats up as it passes over the coil, which turns the liquid into a vapor. This is the way the nicotine is taken into the body. There is no flame, smoke, ashes or burning of paper or tobacco, which causes most of the chemicals in traditional cigarettes.

To vape or not to vape

The question for many is whether or not e-cigs cause health issues that may or may not parallel its predecessor. According to CJ Caswell, owner of Manhattan Vapors located at 700 Rosencutter Road Suite C, e-cigs are actually better for everyone.

“Without a doubt e-cigs are safer, Caswell said. “Not only to the people using them, but you don’t get the second hand smoke like you do with traditional cigarettes.”

However, the nicotine found in e-cig juice is known in studies to cause health issues. According to a news article published by The New York Times, nicotine causes an increase in higher heart rate that can cause hypertension, congestive heart failure and arrhythmias.

“The only thing I know that can cause a health issues with an e-cig is nicotine, which can lead to restricted blood vessels and high blood pressure,” Caswell said.

A big difference between e-cigs and traditional cigarettes, other than the chemicals, is that the amount of nicotine you get from e-cigs can be regulated by the different amounts found in the juice.

“I have more control over how much nicotine I take into my body, and I am able to purchase the juice with different levels of nicotine,” Jake Canady, sophomore in social work, said. “This gives me the ability to cut back until I am free of it all together.”

In order for consumers to know if e-cigs are safer, it has to be determined if propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin cause any health issues.

According to medical website Medscape, propylene glycol has been tested and is used in a variety of products and pharmaceutical formulations that were FDA approved. E-cigs have undergone numerous tests by both independent researchers and the FDA, and the conclusion stays the same: there is no harm caused by e-cigs.

One independent study showed that researchers testing e-cig mist for over 50 known toxins that are found in traditional cigarettes discovered none in the mist. The FDA also failed at finding carcinogens and toxic chemicals in most of the products they tested.

The e-cig website Canadavapes states that vegetable glycerin is used as a sweetener, and is an ingredient in many products such as sugar substitutes, beauty products like shampoo, makeup, bubble bath, aftershave and deodorant. Other products include pet food, soap, skin and hand cream and baked goods.

The chemicals that were found in the e-cig mist are no different than the chemicals found in medical nicotine patches at a lower concentration.

“Another thing I like about e-cigs is that there is no secondhand smoke, only vapor,” Canady said. “According to the research I have done, there are no harmful chemicals in the vapor. I used to feel guilty about smoking around my friends because of the smoke. Now that I have switched to e-cigs, I don’t have that problem. I do have to explain to them that it’s just water mist or vapor and there is nothing in it that will hurt you.”

The difference with traditional cigarettes is combustion. During combustion, temperatures can reach up to 1742 degrees with every puff. During this process, the smoke from traditional cigarettes contain up to 5,000 chemicals. The chemicals found in the smoke are toxic and carcinogenic, which are responsible for nearly all of smoking’s damaging effects.

E-cigs use vaporization, not combustion, at a low temperature. As a drag is taken from an e-cig, the juice is drawn up a wick that passes through the coil. When the coil is heated up, this causes the juice to vaporize and gives the consumer the mist they exhaled.

With lower temperatures and by not having the chemicals that are found in traditional cigarettes before combustion and during the combustion phase, no toxic chemicals are found in the mist of an e-cig.

“Before I started to use an e-cigs, I did some research of my own and I was surprised at how many chemicals are in cigarette smoke,” Canady said. “When I compared this to the mist from an e-cig, I was at a loss for words.”

The same article from Medscape shows that there was some testing done by researchers in Japan concerning the safety of e-cigs. They tested 32 e-cig users and found no abnormal changes in their blood pressure, hematological data or blood chemistry after four weeks of studying.

“I have smoked for nearly 35 years; I had a shortness of breath, wheezing, no energy, was always tired, had yellow teeth and bad breath,” Jolly said. “But only after two weeks of using an e-cig, I noticed changes in my body. My breathing has gotten better; I have more energy when I wake up in the morning. That was only after two weeks. It has been nine months since I have smoked a regular cigarette and I feel so much better. I have noticed my skin looking healthier, my teeth are whiter, and my breathing is so much better with no more cough. The one thing that I have really noticed is my asthma. When I smoke regular cigarettes, my asthma would flare up more often. Now that I have switched to e-cigs, I rarely even noticed my asthma. So I truly believe e-cigs are safe and a great tool to quit smoking. If they are so bad for you why do I feel so much better after I started to use one?”

According to Medscape, e-cigs do not raise any serious health concerns and can be seen as a safe way to smoke and even quit traditional cigarettes. These products appear to be safer than traditional cigarettes and seem to have the same amount of chemicals that medical nicotine treatments have.

There has been some negativity about e-cigs. According to an article by The New York Times, laboratory tests showed that the vapor from e-cigs contains nicotine and promoted development of cancer in certain types of human cells.

Researchers involved in the tests said the findings are preliminary and the research did not involve people, but human cells that were specially treated. The researchers went on to say that e-cigs are safer than traditional cigarettes because they do not burn and produce smoke which contains dangerous chemicals.

The article also said the cells that were specially treated were modified human cells. These cells have specific genetic mutations that are associated with the risk of cancer. The cells were grown in a liquid medium and exposed to the vapor for four hours.

The FDA received reports from consumers on adverse effects they experienced with e-cigs, including pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation, seizure, hypotension and other health problems. The FDA has said that these cases have not been directly linked to e-cigs, and they might have been caused by other health issues that were not reported to the FDA. Consumers can read these reports from these consumers at CTP FOIA Electronic Reading Room.

According to WebMD, the FDA warned people not to use e-cigs. The agency tested 19 cartridges from two e-cigs. One cartridge that was supposed to contain zero nicotine had nicotine in it. Cartridges that said low, medium and high contained varying amounts of nicotine. One cartridge contained diethylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze. The vapor contained nitrosamines which are human carcinogens. The vapor also contained impurities suspected of being harmful to humans.

So this might make a consumer wonder if all the juices found in e-cigs are the same. For Kirby, the answer is no.

“All the juices that are made in the U.S. are pretty much the same and are safer when compared to juices that are made overseas,” Kirby said. “These juices might contain other ingredients because there is no regulation on what can be put into these juices that are shipped into the states from overseas.”

Caswell said that he does sell one type of juice that is manufactured in China, but that the company had its juices tested.

“I sell products that are manufactured here in the U.S. and in China,” Caswell said. “I do know that some of the juices coming from overseas are bad due to no regulations on what can be put in it. The juice I sell from China goes through testing before it is shipped to the U.S., that way it does not get stopped by the U.S. customs and returned.”

Do the components cause harm?

After looking at the ingredients that makes up the juice found in e-cigs, what about the components themselves? Do they pose any harm to the people using an e-cigs?

According to a Huffington Post article, a man was using his e-cig when the battery exploded. The man suffered broken teeth, a chunk of his tongue was missing and he suffered burns to his face.

The article also said that 2.5 million Americans use e-cigs and there have been no other reports of this kind.

According to WSBTV, another battery exploded in a woman’s home when it was plugged into her computer. The e-cig she was using was manufactured in China. The station tried to reach the manufacturer of the battery but received no replies back.

There are no reports on any of the other components malfunctioning and causing harm to anyone.

The question remains the same

According to an article by The New York Times, further testing is needed to find out if e-cigs are truly safe for consumers. The Lung Association has pushed the Obama Administration and FDA to move forward without delay to test and regulate these products.

Caswell agrees that further testing is needed to really prove that e-cigs are safe for consumers.

“I believe that the testing that has been done is conclusive for short-term use, but we will need further testing for long-term habitual use to see what the effects of long-term use will have on the body,” Caswell said.

As of right now, the FDA does not know all the potential risks when e-cigs are used as intended, the amount of nicotine and other chemical being inhaled by consumers and if there any benefits in using these types of products.

“I have been smoking for 25 years and just recently started to use e-cigs; my husband did some research and he believes more testing is needed to see if these are really safe to use,” Lynn Bliss, e-cig user, said. “As of right now, I feel they are safer, but I am still skeptical on whether they are or not, only time and further testing will tell.”

The only e-cigs currently regulated by the FDA are for medical uses or devices to help people quit smoking.

Are e-cigs safer than traditional cigarettes? According to preliminary information, consumers can possibly conclude that e-cigs are safer than traditional cigarettes. However, they do pose possible health issues due to the nicotine found in the juice and in the cartridges. Further testing is needed to really make sure they are safe for consumers.

Until then, the choice is yours.