Are E-Cigarettes Dangerous? Here’s What You Need to Know

Man holding his e-cigarette

Man holding his e-cigarette | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

They may look innocent, multicolored, and fun, but don’t be fooled — just because you can smoke them indoors doesn’t make them any safer than traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes are the growing trend for cigarette smokers and non-smokers alike, but just like alcohol, fatty foods, and the packs of smokes you can buy at the store, there are potential downfalls. If you believe your e-cig is at least easier on your lungs than the harsh cigarette smoke you’re used to, then you may be in for a surprise — the chemicals in your e-cigarette may be just as bad for your lung health as traditional cigarettes.

A close-up view of loose cigarettes

A close-up view of loose cigarettes | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

An e-cigarette itself is a small, battery-operated device that’s similar in size to a pen. They come in many styles and brands, and a lot of e-cigs also come with refillable tanks, explains WebMD. When they’re refillable, you have the option to purchase different flavored liquids, and many of them contain nicotine. This is considered ideal for those looking to quit cigarettes, which is why most e-cig users were, at one point, cigarette smokers. On the surface, it is easy to consider inhaling the liquid less dangerous than actual smoke. But studies are suggesting these liquids come with their own problems.

To create the e-cigarette liquid itself, nicotine is extracted from tobacco and then mixed with a base, such as propylene glycol, which is an alcohol found in antifreeze and used in the plastics and perfume industries. Flavorings, colorings, and chemicals are then added to this mixture to form the smoking liquid, explains the American Lung Association.

Man holding an e-cigarette indoors while working

Man holding an e-cigarette indoors while working | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

You may not be inhaling real smoke when you’re vaping, but the liquids you are taking into your lungs may be just as toxic, reports Science News. Researchers from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, found that when you’re inhaling the liquid from your e-cigarette, you’re taking in nanoparticles, which can trigger inflammation. E-cigarettes have also been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes, which is doubly bad for those with a family history of these conditions.

It’s also tough to tell exactly what’s in the e-cigarette liquid, as the FDA has not evaluated every product on the market, and they’re unlikely to get there anytime soon. There are nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigs, and they’ll all remain available as the FDA sorts through each and every one.

Woman smoking a cigarette

Woman smoking a cigarette | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We do know one thing for sure — nicotine is found in these products, and nicotine itself poses a risk to your health (particularly for pregnant women, as it’s been linked to birth defects). For adolescents, it can stall brain development, which can have an effect on memory and attention span.

Liquid nicotine has a different, and possibly more severe, effect than the nicotine found in regular cigarettes. Emergency Physicians Monthly finds these liquids are highly concentrated, so there is a higher possibility of ingesting toxic amounts. It’s estimated that the lethal dose of nicotine in adults is between 30 and 60 milligrams, and in these liquid solutions, it can be concentrated up to 100 milligrams per milliliter.

wood deck with an ashtray filled with cigarette butts

Ashtray filled with cigarette butts | iStock.com

You may have to step outside to smoke your tobacco cigarette, but e-cigarettes are commonly allowed indoors, which might cause some nicotine-addicted users to smoke even more frequently than they normally would. Vaporized nicotine may even cause cancer, though this has not yet been proven.

E-cigarettes were originally designed to help cigarette users quit smoking, but what’s really troubling is the rate at which younger kids are using them. Medical News Today explains e-cigarettes are often marketed toward a younger crowd, and usage more than doubled in middle and high schools in the U.S. between 2011 and 2012. Over 1.78 million e-cigarette users were middle and high school adolescents in 2012. Some states have prohibited the sale of e-cigs to minors, but it’s easy to buy them online. There’s also concern about them acting as a gateway drug for more harmful substances.

While e-cigarettes may contain dangerous levels of nicotine and other chemicals, experts still believe they are less dangerous than cigarettes and are appropriate for those looking to quit smoking for good. Public Health England estimated in 2015 that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than cigarettes themselves, which is significant. However, it’s still important to note that the liquids are not 100% safe either, so the best course of action is probably quitting smoking completely.

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