Electronic cigarettes, sometimes called e-cigarettes or e-cigs for short, have risen in popularity in recent times. Many smokers have taken to using e-cigs to help them curb the smoking habit. And because e-cigs produce vapor that looks and feels very much like cigarette smoke when inhaled and exhaled, these gadgets have often succeeded in helping quite a few hardcore smokers quit smoking. Like me, for instance.
I have been “vaping” since November 2010 and have not touched a single real cigarette since then. I started smoking when I was 13, tried quitting at least a dozen times, and succeeding only when I started vaping (vaping is the term for e-cigarette use, since what’s produced is vapor and not smoke). In fact, this is the longest I have gone without smoking a single stick since first year high school. And I don’t intend to go back to smoking. No, sir.
However, e-cigs have been a target of negative publicity of late, particularly after news came out that an electronic cigarette reportedly exploded in a Florida vaper’s mouth during use. The explosion was caused by the device’s faulty batteries and reportedly caused the vaper to lose some of his front teeth and a chunk of his tongue. It also burned the poor dude’s face. He was then taken to a hospital but is now recovering.
This news item went viral on the Net and a lot of people were quick to condemn e-cig use as being more dangerous than smoking. But is it, really?
Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on this matter. I am not. But I do have my own opinion of electronic cigarettes and vaping based on what I have read. Yes, I had done my research even before I started vaping. I never really wanted to dive head-on to something that I don’t know anything about. So there.
Anyway, admittedly, there will always be two sides to this issue, but we do have to clarify some points. First, there is a difference between the safety issues of using electronic cigarettes and of vaping itself. Secondly, we must always compare these e-cig and vaping safety issues with those of smoking cigarettes which vaping aims to simulate.
With regard to the first, we must always bear in mind that an e-cig is an electronic device and, as such, should be used with certain safety precautions in mind. The Florida e-cig accident was reportedly caused by a faulty battery. This brings to mind news reports of even the most seemingly innocuous cellphone batteries blowing up during charging and stories of vehicles catching fire without warning.
Although the electronics of e-cigs is quite simple–you have a battery (or a pair of them) which powers an atomizer which burns what is called an e-juice which, in turn, produces vapor–the problem is that the sudden popularity of vaping in the past couple of years has resulted in the mushrooming of so many e-cig manufacturers that produce substandard vaping devices.
The danger actually lies in the use of cheap, “unprotected” batteries (batteries that don’t have any kind of protection against overheating or thermal overload) in e-cig devices. Unprotected batteries are only suitable for devices that do not require much power to create heat (like digital cameras, flashes, and audio devices). Electronic cigarettes should always use “protected” batteries that do not, well, explode when pushed to the limit. Actually, unprotected batteries do not normally explode when used heavily; it’s just that protected batteries have built-in features that actually prevent this at the outset.
So how do we prevent low-grade batteries from exploding? We can’t. But what we can do is to use high-quality batteries that have built-in protection from this possible occurrence. These batteries may not come cheap but I know you will agree that your safety and peace of mind are things you should never scrimp on.
Now, granting that the exploding battery incident happened at all, it happened to one among millions of e-cig users in the world right now. Oh, and there is this teeny-weeny fact that around 138 people will die today in the USA alone due to smoking-related illnesses.
Which brings me to the issue of the safety of vaping itself. Is it safer than smoking? A lot of people say that it is really too early to tell. Here are the facts, though. Smoke contains nicotine, tar, and more than 4,000 other chemicals. E-juice (which produces the vapor in e-cigs) contains propylene glycol (an organic compound found in food flavoring and medicine) and vegetable glycerin (a vegetable-based sugar substitute used in baking) and, depending on the vaper’s preference, nicotine. Now, based on these facts alone, it is clear that cigarette smoke contains more harmful chemicals than e-cig vapor. A lot more.
Moreover, studies show that nicotine, although addicting, is not harmful in itself if ingested in small doses. In fact, the British medical society issued a statement in 2007 that said “Nicotine itself is not especially hazardous. If nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved.”
The American FDA has been on a mission to ban the sale of e-cigs in the US. What is interesting is that the FDA is backed by anti-smoking groups, which I think is funny because e-cigarettes do not produce smoke and these gadgets actually help curb the habit of smoking.
The FDA was overruled in the US courts last year but continues on its mission of having the sale of e-cigs outlawed by publicizing the supposed “perils” of vaping. The agency’s methodology and warnings, however, have been lambasted in scientific journals as misleading and inconclusive. Some doctors claim that the agency has never presented any clear evidence that the trace amounts of toxins found in e-cig vapor actually cause harm. The agency even neglected to mention that similar traces of these chemicals can be found in other FDA-approved products like nicotine gums and patches.
Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, in a recent article in the Harm Reduction Journal, states that the detected chemicals in e-cig vapor have “about one million times lower concentrations than are conceivably related to human health.” In turn, Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, states: “It boggles my mind why there is a bias against e-cigarettes among anti-smoking groups,” and added that it made no sense to fret about such hypothetical risks from miniscule levels of chemicals in e-cigarette vapor when the alternative is known to be much deadlier: cigarettes containing thousands of chemicals, including dozens of carcinogens and hundreds of toxins.
Quite a few countries have banned the sale of electronic cigarettes, including Ireland, Singapore, Argentina, and Australia, claiming that there is no proof that e-cigarettes help smokers kick the smoking habit. But, shouldn’t it follow then that there is also no proof that e-cigs do not help?
Personally, I believe that much research still needs to be done on e-cigarette use and vaping before anyone can state anything conclusive. What is obvious right now, however, is that real cigarettes contain more harmful chemicals than their electronic counterparts. I believe that this alone presupposes the greater danger that real cigarettes pose, assuming that no unplanned explosions take place, of course.
But don’t get me wrong. I am neither encouraging nor discouraging vaping. I am merely stating the facts and expressing my own opinion on the subject. But as I said, I am no expert on this so don’t take my word for it. If you plan to kick your smoking habit by vaping, do your own research first and decide based on what you find out, and not on what I say here. There’s a wealth of information (and misinformation) out there regarding this topic, but you should always try to sort out the truth from the half-truths and the utter bullcrap.
As for me, I am a happy vaper. I make sure that my e-cigarettes have safety features. I stay away from cheap batteries that don’t have built-in thermal overload protection. I use only tried and tested e-juice brands. And I’ve never felt healthier in my life.
Maybe one good thing that will come out of the Florida vaping accident is that it would make electronic cigarette manufacturers more careful in producing devices for mass consumption. Perhaps these manufacturers will start ensuring that the e-cigarettes that they manufacture and sell don’t spontaneously go kablooey.
There’s one thing that keeps running through my mind, though. Where are the big tobacco companies in this scenario? What have they been up to? They’ve lost a big chunk of their market to electronic cigarettes and stand to lose a lot more if these devices get further acceptance in the mainstream. Yet, they are suspiciously quiet.
It just makes me wonder.
Al Dimalanta is a writer, professor, musician, photographer, marketing communicator and as he said – an occasional techie. He is a freelance PR consultant, works as a content editor and writer, and heads a punk band named THROW. Email Al at email@example.com