What are e-cigarettes?
According to the FDA, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are devices that allow users to inhale an aerosol containing nicotine or other substances.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are generally battery-operated and use a heating element to heat e-liquid from a refillable cartridge, releasing a chemical-filled aerosol. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the water vapor produced by an electric device called vaporizer.
While there is no tobacco in e-cigarette liquid, there is nicotine. Nicotine is undoubtedly addictive, but unlike the tar in tobacco, nicotine does not cause cancer and heart disease. Pure nicotine can be lethal in sufficient quantities and there are reports of poisoning from vaping — either by ingesting the e-cigarette liquid or inhaling the fumes. There is also some evidence nicotine may lead to changes in adolescent brain development, especially to the part responsible for intelligence, language and memory.
The e-cigarette liquid may also contain flavorings, colorings or other chemicals. The “other chemicals” are particularly troublesome for health organizations and the FDA. Detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, including formaldehyde, have been found in lab tests of these products.
One of the flavors used, Diacetyl, a buttery flavored chemical, can cause serious, irreversible lung disease. And poison centers are reporting an increase in poisoning from e-cigarettes — either by ingesting the e-cigarette liquid or inhaling the fumes.
The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that e-cigarettes can expose users to several potentially harmful chemicals, including nicotine, carbonyl compounds and volatile organic compounds.
Second hand vapor?
Electronic cigarettes don’t burn, don’t produce smoke, and therefore don’t produce second-hand smoke — right? Maybe not. A study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health in December found that vaping worsened indoor air quality, increasing the concentration of nicotine, particulate matter, PAHs and aluminum — compounds that have been linked to lung and cardiovascular disease and cancer among other health effects. While regulation and public policy on vaping is still being figured out, it is safest and most considerate not to vape around those who are not vaping.
While not safe, many experts feel e-cigarettes are significantly safer than traditional cigarettes. Per the Centers for Disease Control, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths, or one of every five deaths, each year. Anything that lowers the rate of cigarette smoking is going to improve our overall health and many believe that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative. The biggest proven harm e-cigarettes can cause is dependence, as most e-liquids contain nicotine. However, they are still relatively new and long-term effects are not known yet.
The American Lung Association, however, remains concerned about the impact of e-cigarettes on public health, particularly among youth who may see e-cigarettes as less dangerous and stigmatized than traditional cigarettes.
The question to ask yourself before vaping with an e-cigarette — is it worth the risk?
If you or a loved one are diagnosed with lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking, second-hand smoke, or other causes, seek skilled care. Sierra Nevada Cancer Center provides compassionate care in a comfortable, non-hospital environment at locations in Carson City, Stateline, Gardnerville and Fallon. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Jorge Perez, call (775) 883-3336.