These days, if you go out to your local bar you may find someone sucking on a futuristic device known as an electronic cigarette, or “e-cigarettes.” E-Cigarettes are an alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes: they do not contain any tobacco and don’t require any flame. E-Cigarettes are battery-powered and work by delivering nicotine though a vapor that the user inhales. Using e-cigarettes is sometimes called “vaping.”
Since 2003 when they were invented, E-cigarettes have become an attractive alternative to traditional cigarettes because there’s no ash or smoky smell. Additionally, e-cigarettes are marketed as healthier because they contain fewer harmful chemicals like carbon dioxide and tar. However, the health effects of e-cigarettes have not been completely studied and early reports show that quality control may be a major problem for e-cigarette manufacturers.
In 2009, the FDA conducted a study to analyze a sample of nicotine cartridges from two leading manufacturers. The results showed that the amount of nicotine delivered did not always match the amount stated on the label. Even more troubling the FDA found that some products marketed as being “nicontine-free” actually contained nicotine. The FDA’s analysis also found diethlyene glycol in one of the products from the two leading brands tested. Diethlene glycol is an ingredient used in antifreeze and is toxic to humans.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for e-cigarettes to be banned indoors. The organization believes the vapor may be harmful to children and developing fetuses. Many states and cities in America have enacted “vaping” ban. Most people studying e-cigarettes agree that more research needs to be done before a conclusive statement can be made about their safety. At this time, the only e-cigarettes that FDA regulates are those marketed for therapeutic purposes only. The FDA has issued a proposed rule that would extend its authority over additional products that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product, including e-cigarettes. Already, the FDA has tracked adverse events linking e-cigarette use to pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation, seizure and hypotension. It is unclear at this point what caused these events, but further study and caution is needed.
However, there are those who disagree with WHO’s assessment. According to a Rueters arcticle, a group of tobacco addiction experts allege the report has “errors, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations.” The group, while admitting there are currently more questions than answers, claims that e-cigarettes are far less dangerous than cigarettes.
The debate will continue for quite some time while the long term effects of e-cigarettes take form. For now, we can only urge caution until science can assess the damage.