Decades ago, when walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant one would be surrounded by wafts of tobacco smoke. Nowadays pedestrians are surrounded by puffs of cotton candy and mint smoke emanating from electronic cigarettes.
The act of smoking electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes (EC) is known as vaping. Vaping has created a new way of smoking that has fewer negative side effects and can help wean smokers off cigarettes. The problem is that e-cigarettes aren’t just advertised as a therapeutic method for current smokers, but targets younger smokers and non-smokers with flavors like cotton candy and cookie dough. Approximately 31% of teens who vape graduate to smoking conventional cigarettes within six months, whereas, 8% of teens who don’t vape may start smoking. What’s worse, seven out of ten teens are exposed to e-cigarette ads and twice as many boys vape compared to girls.
The most concerning thing about vaping is that what these teenagers are inhaling is unclear. ECs that were advertised as nicotine-free had trace amounts of nicotine. And, while the Flavor and Extract Manufactures Association deemed the flavors safe for food digestion they weren’t cleared for inhalation.
The e-cigarette industry is growing at a rapid rate and the global market is currently valued at 7.9 billion (U.S dollars), which is 20 times larger than in 2010. It is predicted to double again in the next three years. E-cigarettes hit the US market in 2006; proposals for regulation weren’t made until 2014 and were just finalized in August of 2016 by the FDA. Still the uptick in young users is troubling. Many don’t understand the dangers of vaping yet brush it aside thinking it is harmless—when quite the opposite may be true.
Without regulation, ingredients in the cartridges of four-hundred and sixty different brands the e-cigarettes are unknown. The FDA wants brands to list ingredients and their potential health impact, but it will cost manufacturers around $450,000 to label per product. Nevertheless, the dangers are growing; recent studies have found formaldehyde (a carcinogen), diacetyl and diethylene glycol (toxins), and metal are inhaled when vaping. A case study of 27 individuals found 25 of the 27 suffered negative side effectsafter exposure to EC refill fluids. Users suffered from systemic effects, nicotine poisoning and mechanical injury (from battery explosions). Systemic effects include ulcers, pneumonia, and bloody bowl movement. Some nicotine poisoning was suicidal/intentional but others died simply by accident.
While the FDA is beginning to regulate the industry, some of the expectations are unachievable for smaller brandswho can’t afford the new labeling of ingredients clearing the path for larger tobacco companies that have moved into ECs. The ingredients are not the only problem with the EC industry. There are real dangers in the increasingnumber of advertisements aimed at younger users who might not even smoke. Just because ECs appear safer than cigarettes— not smoking at all is still the safest bet.
If you are trying to quit smoking, consult your doctor to discuss the best options available.