Opinion: E-cigarettes better than traditional smoking; more standardization, research needed


E-cigarettes are the new wave in smoking. Known as “vaping,” you don’t really smoke the e-cig, but rather inhale vapors from the cartridge. It is thought to be the safe alternative to smoking or a method of helping smokers quit, ideas that advertisers use to reach 24 million people below the level smoking age.

This worries doctors who want e-cigs banned, or at least regulated.

A study reported on by U.S. News said researchers determined that vaping is relatively healthier than traditional smoking. However, since the study focused on just cigarettes as opposed to electric cigarettes, not much else is known. We don’t have information on secondhand vapors, if e-cigs are bad for health by themselves, if they’re harmless or what is in most e-cigs. The same study showed how the brands that supply the vaping liquid called e-juice (which is heated, then exhaled as vapors), contains particulates and heavy metals like tin, nickel, lead and chromium.

E-cigs are so new, there is very little information or regulations about them. While the lack of studies are troubling, the ones we do have paint a bad or confusing picture about e-cigs – a telling sign. Since their are no regulations on the product, manufacturers are free to put in whatever they want, and there are no uniform ingredients list for them.

The American Lung Association stated there are almost 500 brands of e-cigs, each with varied ingredients. More troubling is the varied amounts of nicotine. Not having a standard for nicotine can lead to overdose problems by switching one brand that has low amounts to one that actually has high amounts of the drug.

Right now, labeling and safety limits are at the discretion of the manufacturer. This means that if it costs more to print ingredient information, it is going to go unprinted. The lack of oversight means that anything goes.

One dubious claim is that e-cigs help smokers quit by replacing cigarettes. A study, done by the University of California at San Fransico, concluded that e-cig users were less likely to quit smoking and a high number reported dual-usage of the products, both the electronic and the regular cigarettes.

This sounds like the diet soda argument. Everyone hears that diet soda is healthier compared to regular soda, so everyone drinks more diet products when it really isn’t that much healthier – it just leads to different health problems.

The UCSF study also showed the e-cig emissions are not just harmless water vapor and contribute as a source of indoor air pollution. Their findings ended with the recommendation that vaping should be controlled in the same way as smoking.

So just saying it’s better doesn’t mean it’s true – it is really just splitting hairs.

Prices and models of vapes vary, but even the higher-end models may not be safer. According to a May New York Times article, it found that the higher-end e-cig models were more dangerous. The article points out combustion is one of the major causes of illness in smokers, because the burning creates carcinogens. The selling point of e-cigs is that the temperature it uses to heat up e-juice is so low that no combustion occurs: the liquid doesn’t burn on the heating element.

However, some more expensive e-cig models (in particular, the ones called tanks) can burn just hot enough to produce levels of formaldehyde in similar levels to conventional cigarettes. Another popular form of e-cig use, called dripping, involves putting the vaping juice right on the heating element. Dripping allows the juice to burn anyway, possibly releasing those carcinogens.

There are lots of alternatives that are healthier than smoking. Though e-cigs are a popular one, it is also the one raising the most questions. We, the consumers, need more studies and more regulation before e-cigarettes can be declared totally safe so that we know what is actually in that tank of e-juice.

Patrick White is a senior in mass communications.