You may know it as a “vape pen,” “e-hookah,” “personal vaporizer,” or just an “ecig”. Whatever you choose to call it, electronic cigarettes are exploding in popularity. Among adults, the 2014 National Health Information Survey (NHIS) found that nearly 4 percent of adults currently use e-cigarettes every day or some days. The CDC’s Health Styles survey found that “between 2010 and 2013, the percent of adults who had ever used e-cigarettes more than doubled from 3.3 percent to 8.5 percent.” Even more telling, the CDC also found that e-cigs have become more popular than regular cigarettes among teens. Due to the fact that ecigs usage is increasing and new laws are coming out regarding sales, I felt it was time to dig into how e-cigs could affect your health.
How Does an e-Cigarette Work?
In a regular cigarette or cigar, tobacco is burned; the smoke is inhaled into the lungs so that nicotine and other chemicals are delivered into your body. In an ecigarette, a flavored nicotine liquid (often called e-juice) is stored in a small tank inside the e-cigarette. A heating coil (which is powered by a battery) heats and vaporizes some of the liquid so it can be inhaled into the lungs to deliver the nicotine and other chemicals into your body.
E-cigarettes can look like a cigarette, cigar or pipe, or can resemble pens, flashlights, or flash drives. Bright metallic colors adorn many e-cigarettes while neon, neutrals and psychedelic designs are also common. The FDA is concerned that the bold colors and delicious sounding names of the liquids will lure more young adults and minors into using e-cigarettes.
Speaking of the flavors, many of them seem tempting because they are named after sweet treats that we love to consume. Flavors like grape, apple, lemonade, snickerdoodle, cotton candy, and caramel sound like our favorite treats.
Chemicals in E-Cigarettes and Their Dangers
The American Heart Association’s first policy regarding e-cigs stated “Electronic cigarettes need to be strongly regulated-and quickly-to prevent another generation of young people from becoming addicted to nicotine.” While e-cigarettes do not release the same tar into the lungs as conventional cigarettes, the long term dangers of e-cigarettes have not been researched because they are such new products. It’s important to remember that at the moment, manufacturers of e-cigarettes are unregulated, so they don’t need to test their products for safety before sale to consumers.
Several chemicals that we know are present in the vapor of e-cigarettes:
- Formaldehyde- A known human carcinogen, causing cancer to the nasopharynx and leukemia.
- Benzene- Long term inhalation can cause disorders in the blood. Leukemia has been found in humans exposed to benzene.
- Propylene Glycol- Even brief exposure can cause irritations in the eyes, throat and airways. Children exposed over a long-term run the risk of developing asthma.
- Nicotine- Affects the nervous system and the heart. Nicotine can cause atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Nicotine is extremely addictive.
- Heavy metal particles- Tiny particles of tin, chromium, nickel and other heavy metals could break off a heat coil of the e-cigarette and be inhaled into the lungs. Asthma, bronchitis and emphysema could all be triggered by these particles.
In 2015, researchers measured chemicals in 30 different e-cigarette liquids. They found high amounts of benzaldehyde and vanillin, two chemicals that can cause respiratory irritation. The chemical levels they found were twice the limit that people can be exposed to in a workplace.
New Laws Regarding E-Cigarettes
On May 5th, 2016 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would regulate e-cigarettes and prohibit their sale to minors. New regulations also require health warnings on all product packages and on any advertisements. Most noteworthy, all product ingredients in e-cigarettes and harmful substances must be reported to the FDA. However, it is valuable to know, these regulations will be gradually phased-in over the next 3 years, meaning many products on the shelf today have not been evaluated for safety.
Steer Clear of e-Cigarettes
As a healthy woman, I want you to avoid the vapors of e-cigarettes and instead choose healthy options. If you are a smoker, don’t just leap into e-cigarettes, please talk to your health provider about approved smoking cessation options.
Because it all begins with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.