Most people now know that cigarettes are the cause of many health problems, and if you don’t, news flash, cigarettes are bad! But what about the new craze, e-cigarettes? E-cigarettes are products that deliver aerosols containing nicotine by heating up a solution in order to vaporize it for inhalation. The compound that the nicotine is dissolved in traditionally contains propelyne glycol, glycerol, and flavoring agents. The temperature of some e-cigarettes can be controlled to give a varying intensity of nicotine hit. While they don’t have all the nasty chemicals that cigarettes have and are safer than traditional cigarettes, emerging research shows they are anything but safe.
One of the health problems emerging from current research shows that when the nicotine solvents are heated they can break down into both formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, both of which are known carcinogens. In a study, published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, they found formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in 8 of the 13 tested commercially available samples when they where heated. In some of the high voltage e-cigarettes, the level of formaldehyde was higher then the levels in a traditional cigarette. While most of the smaller e-cigarettes had formaldehyde levels lower than traditional cigarettes, these levels are still dangerous and e-cigarette users may be exposed to high levels through cumulative exposure, especially if users assume or think they are safe.
The negative health effects of e-cigarettes go beyond problems with formaldehyde. One of the biggest health problems concerning smoking (cigarettes and marijuana), air pollution and e-cigarette use is the particulate matter that gets inhaled. Particulate matter comes in many different sizes ranging from 100 micrometers (thickness of a coat of paint) to less than 2.5 micrometers (smaller than a yeast cell) all the way down to less than 100 nanometers across (smaller than the diameter of HIV virus). Particulate matter that is fine (2.5um or PM2.5) or ultrafine (0.1um or PM0.1) has been linked to health problems including heart disease, asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. As anyone who has inhaled crumbs or dust can tell you, matter in your lungs hurts and it isn’t surprising that it can cause damage to the lung. Much research, reviewed here, has shown that inhalation of particulate matter can reach the small air sacks of your lung (alveoli) and can result in unresolved inflammation (which is bad) and potentially disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma. It is unknown if the particles are toxic themselves. More than causing lung damage, the inflammation that particulate matter induces can spill out of the lung and into your circulation where it has be linked to problems such as atherosclerosis or heart attacks. These particles can even be taken up by cells in your lungs where they cannot be broken down and end up accumulating until the cells die. What all this research shows is that inhalation of particulate matter of any kind (pollution, cigarette smoke, e-cigarette vapours or wood fire smoke) can be dangerous for your health and may be the reason for the rising levels of respiratory problems like asthma and COPD. As for E-cigarettes, they have been shown to release fine and ultrafine particulate matter and therefore could pose a serious risk to the health of smokers and bystanders alike.
While e-cigarettes are probably helpful to people who are interested in quitting their smoking habit, they are not without their own health concerns. More research needs to be done to see the long-term effects of e-cigarettes (or marijuana) to determine whether the inhaled particulate matter or nicotine solutions can lead to higher rates of cancer or respiratory problems. That research is likely to show that as far as your health is concerned, there is no such thing as a safe cigarette. On a side note, cigarette companies have been quickly buying up these e-cigarette companies so either way they are still getting you money.