Electronic cigarettes, also referred to just as e-cigarettes, are a controversial topic. In San Francisco, city officials recently banned the sale of e-cigarettes citing concerns over teen use of these devices. When e-cigarettes were initially introduced, they were touted as a healthier alternative to smoking that could help people addicted to cigarettes stop smoking. Now, there is mounting evidence suggesting e-cigarettes have their own set of risks. The e-cigarette and vaping industry has become big business, particularly for names like Juul, which accounts for around 70% of the market and also happens to be based in San Francisco. Additionally, even though proponents and health advocates were once hopeful that e-cigarettes could help people stop using traditional cigarettes, that may not be the case anymore either. For example, nearly three-fifths of smokers continued using conventional tobacco products even after adopting e-cigs. The following are some specific things to know about the possible risks of e-cigarettes.
Burns and Explosions
Some of the risks of using e-cigarettes are similar to the risks of traditional cigarettes, but others aren’t. For example, an estimated 700 people visit emergency rooms each year because of burns or explosions related to e-cigarettes. Two known deaths have occurred as the result of using these devices, and much of the risk is likely due to the lithium-ion batteries e-cigarette contain. There was a similar risk with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone. The batteries were the same, and it was associated with an increased risk of fires and explosions.
Many people who use e-cigarettes are unaware that these products do contain nicotine, and teens and younger people may be especially unaware of this. Nicotine is addictive, so while someone who uses e-cigarettes as a way to stop using traditional tobacco may already be addicted to nicotine, someone who starts with e-cigarette use may develop a nicotine addiction. Ongoing nicotine use can contribute to type 2 diabetes, and it also increases blood pressure and heart rate. When young people use nicotine, it can cause changes in their brain, particularly in the prefrontal area, and may impact brain development. When adolescents use nicotine, it can specifically impact parts of the brain controlling learning, mood, impulse control, and attention. Nicotine can damage a developing brain in a young person until they’re around 25 years old. The use of nicotine as an adolescent can also lead to an increased risk of becoming addicted to other substances in the future.
E-cigarettes contain substances aside from nicotine that may not be healthy, although scientists are still looking at the long-term risks of these relatively new devices. For example, e-cigarettes can contain something called aerosol. Many people believe aerosol is just water vapor, but that’s not necessarily true. The aerosol in e-cigarettes can contain dangerous chemicals,including particles that can be inhaled into the lungs and ultimately increase the risk of certain lung diseases. Flavored vapor may contain something called diacetyl. Diacetyl is linked to lung disease, and there may be volatile organic compounds that you breathe in when you use e-cigarettes. Heavy metals may be in these vapors too, including lead.
Future Risk of Smoking
As was touched on, the use of e-cigarettes, particularly among young people, can increase the risk of the eventual use of traditional cigarettes and tobacco products. For example, there was a report in 2018 from the National Academy of Medicine indicating evidence that the use of e-cigarettes can increase the number of cigarettes and the frequency of cigarette use someone engages in, in the future.
Are E-Cigarettes Safer Than Traditional Cigarettes?
While there are risks to using e-cigarettes, the risks of using traditional cigarettes are likely much greater. E-cigarettes are still believed to be potentially helpful to people who already smoke cigarettes,and they are considered a safer source of nicotine. They can be helpful to some people who want to stop smoking. When e-cigarettes tend to have the most risks is when they are used by young people and people who aren’t already cigarette smokers. This can impact a young person’s brain, increase the likelihood of a young person using traditional cigarettes in the future, and can cause other harm such as the increased risk of certain lung diseases. For someone who doesn’t already smoke, it’s important to avoid all e-cigarettes, and parents should be aware of the risks of e-cigarette use for a young person’s developing brain as well as their lungs. More research is being done to discern the true risks of these increasingly popular devices.