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E-cigarettes… Are They Actually Safer? Survey Says: Yes. And No.

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Man smoking an e-cigarette

E-cigarettes have exploded in popularity recently, especially with adults under 30. But are they really posing bigger health risks than we think?

I came across this 2017 study over the weekend about e-cigarette use among college freshmen at a large Midwestern University. Of 1,542 subjects surveyed, 21.7% said the biggest reason for their e-cigarette use was that they believed e-cigarettes were "safer than regular cigarettes". This was followed by "experimentation" (18.9%) and "my friends use" (17.0%).

There are trendy reasons to vape. And at least some in the medical community agree that they are less harmful than cigarettes. Yet researchers are asking questions about whether safety claims are more marketing smoke than medically established fact.

From the start, e-cigarettes were marketed as a safer option to smoking, yet with only three studies on health effects to date, it’s hard for anyone to say what the long-term effects of vaping are. The data doesn’t exist yet. And while vaping contains many fewer know carcinogens than cigarettes, arguably vaping is more addicting because it is more personalized, even more personalized than smoking ever was or could be: vaping offers thousands of different devices, some with status brands on them, made for different occasions and genders, and with upward of 8,000 flavors now according to Wikipedia. It’s a trendy hobby as well as a nicotine addiction.

One thing that stood out for me in the Midwestern University study was the majority who said they used e-cigarette devices for substances other than tobacco. 77.9% of over 1,500 young, college-age people reported also using cannabis or some derivative of cannabis in an e-cigarette. The study begs the question around the health hazards of e-cigarettes beyond their intended use.

The Ingredients of Most E-Juice

Some ingredients vary, but most contain 95% propylene glycol and glycerine. The rest is nicotine and flavourings.

Young woman smoking e-cigaretteThe human safety of glycerine is well established. There have been reports of flavourings causing allergic reactions in some people, with hive-like reactions. And though the research says one of the main ingredients, propylene glycol, is only harmful in doses over 4 g/L, as a comparative example, alcohol is toxic at a dose of 50g/L and both metabolize into several other compounds, including propionaldehyde, which is a known toxic irritant.

In many ways, the medical establishment says the verdict is still out on e-cigarettes until we have more longitudinal data into effects. Interestingly, some people smoke cigarettes and e-cigarettes together, which makes one wonder if the e-cigarette is doing something for the person that the cigarette does not or cannot. Does it deliver nicotine differently? I myself have never vaped and I would be very interested to know how it differs from smoking a cigarette or a cigar. 

E-cigarettes contain many fewer toxic chemicals than regular cigarettes, for sure; but the chemicals they do contain, and the alternate uses the devices can be put to, means we still need to better understand the impact of e-cigarettes on the health of young vapers.

What do you think of cigarettes vs. e-cigarettes? I would love to hear your comments.

Please leave your comments here:

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