You’ve probably never seen a pack of cigarettes without a health warning on it. That’s because in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General, Luther L. Terry, M.D., released a warning about the health risks of smoking cigarettes, says the CDC. Governments of other countries likewise mandate health warnings on tobacco products.
Conversely, on a bottle of liquid for an e-cigarette you will not find that warning. Does the lack of a warning mean that e-cigarettes are safer? Not necessarily. Research shows that e-cigarettes might not be as harmful, but; that does not mean they come without risks.
It’s important to know what we are putting in our bodies. Each chemical you ingest has an effect. I’ve written quite a bit about potentially harmful chemicals found in everything from carpeting to sunscreen. Most of my patients care deeply about their health and the health of their families. So, they take the time to learn what is in each product they bring into their lives. It should be no different with e-cigarettes.
A History Lesson
The Surgeon General might have made his initial warning in 1964, but it took an additional five years for legislation to put restrictions in place on how tobacco companies were allowed to market their products. Until 1969, tobacco marketers were allowed to air commercials on TV and radio. They were also allowed to market cigarettes as pleasurable and healthy, as in these commercials on youtube. These commercials misled viewers about the health risks of tobacco use.
So why does a marketing scheme from the 1960’s matter to e-cigarette users today? Because marketing firms employ similar strategies as tobacco companies used to. They generally advertise e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. The FDA and CDC are working to regulate vaping like they do smoking. However, in this quickly growing industry, it may take years to complete the necessary research and implement fitting regulations.
Research on Vaping Thus Far
From the get-go, advertisers have been marketing vaping as “cool and safe.” With these liquid cigarettes, you inhale vapor, not smoke.
The FDA was not so convinced about their safety. They funded a program to test the effects of vaping. Boston University was among the first to receive money for the research. Scientists tested human bronchial epithelial cells to evaluate if the cells changed the same way when exposed to the vapors from e-cigs as regular tobacco. “We found that the electronic cigarette was able to cause cells to become more cancer-like—they grew more quickly than a cell should be able to,” says Avrum Spira professor of medicine and pathology and bioinformatics at BU. He explains that these lung cells behave much like cancer cells do.
Researchers at University of California, San Diego Health studied the effects of vaping on the lungs and body. They focused on the chemicals used in the liquid. The liquid contains more than flavored water with nicotine in it. The vapors also contain propylene glycol, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, diacetyl, and silicate particles. Inhaling these “can’t possibly be good for you,” says Laura E. Crotty Alexander, MD.
Actually, there’s no way to be sure exactly what the liquid does contain since no federal agency oversees this. According to WebMD, “Labels may inaccurately describe ingredients, and what you find in one brand may be vastly different from that found in another, for better or worse.”
Crotty and her team at UC San Diego tested their hypothesis on mice that inhaled e-cigarette vapors for one hour a day, five days a week, for four weeks. The mice developed elevated inflammatory markers. She remarked that this inflammation was similar to what they would expect to see in a regular smoker as well as in lung cancer patients.
Fans of e-cigarettes may not believe that their second-hand vapors have the same result as second-hand smoke. While it’s true that the companions of vapors aren’t breathing in the unfiltered chemicals that are found in tobacco, they are still breathing in the residual chemicals from e-cigarettes.
Scientific American explained that after exhaling, just like traditional cigarette smoke, the chemicals from the vapors are then released into the air. They cited a study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. The report explains that vaping increases the concentration of nicotine, particulate matter, PAHs and aluminum in the air around the smoker. These compounds, the researchers say, “have been linked to lung, cardiovascular disease, and, cancer among other health effects.”
If you’re a smoker, hands down, your best option is to quit. Unfortunately, nicotine is a highly addictive substance and quitting is far from easy. So far it seems inconclusive whether or not vaping is actually safer than smoking.
If you want to quit smoking, switching to e-cigarettes may lessen ill effects on your health. Just don’t confuse vaping with being safe. This is an issue I will continue to watch with interest and will report on new findings as they emerge.
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