Are E-cigarettes Safer Than Tobacco?
Vaporizers, also known as e-cigarettes, are relatively new products in the tobacco industry. E-cigarettes first emerged in 2003, but it was not until several years ago that a significant portion of Americans started to use e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a flavored liquid that contains nicotine. As the liquid is heated, the solution vaporizes and effectively delivers nicotine into the user’s body. Vapes, vaporizers, and e-cigarettes are identical terms and are used interchangeably throughout the industry. Unlike traditional cigarettes that use combustion to deliver nicotine, vapes use small lithium-ion batteries that send electricity to the atomizer that transforms the nicotine solution from a liquid state to a gas state. As a result of this change in physical state, the vapor from e-cigarettes consists of little to no harmful gasses. The main objective of this practice called vaping is to help tobacco smokers quit because there is no doubt that smoking tobacco causes cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and of death from cancer” (Tobacco). However, is the use of e-cigarettes actually a healthier and safer alternative than smoking tobacco? Still, vaping as an activity is not completely harmless and there are a few dangers worth noting about the use of e-cigarettes.
Those who argue that the use of e-cigarettes is not a healthier and safer alternative to smoking tobacco stand strong over a few claims. First, they argue that e-cigarette vapors contain cancer-causing substances that are also found in traditional cigarettes. Second, they argue that the second-hand vapor from e-cigarettes poses serious health threats on bystanders. Third, they argue that the vape liquid solution contains toxic ingredients that are also used in traditional cigarettes. And fourth, they argue that the device itself poses the risk of explosion on the consumers if the devices are not carefully maintained. Those who believe that the use of e-cigarettes is indeed a safer alternative to smoking tobacco would argue the opposite that the vapors produced from vaping are harmless and contains little to no trace of carcinogens; and if e-cigarettes are regularly maintained by a specialist, there would not be a need to worry about explosions; and the ingredients that makeup vape liquid is less toxic than the ingredients used in traditional cigarettes. These are just a few arguments that the two opposing sides commonly argue. I believe that the use and the physical features implemented with e-cigarettes are safer than the use of tobacco.
In the past few years, there have been several cases of e-cigarettes catching on fire and exploding as consumers use these devices. According to CNN, “In May, a vaporizer blew up in a young man’s face in New York, knocking out teeth, ripping a hole in his tongue and leaving his hands covered in burns. Earlier that month, an Alabama teen was burned after a classmate’s e-cigarette exploded and sent a hot battery flying into his face. In February, dramatic gas station security footage showed a man’s leg being engulfed by flames as a result of another apparent e-cigarette explosion” (Peled). There is more than one reason as to why e-cigarettes explode, “some of the obvious problems include the lack of industry-wide manufacturing standards or testing programs and misuse by vapers who modify their devices or use the wrong battery chargers” (Weisbaum). As a result of the misuse and lack of industry-wide standards, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has declared war on the e-cigarette industry. The FDA now regulates many aspects of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Some of which include regulations on labeling, advertising, packaging, vending, and distributing e-cigarette products. With the involvement of the FDA, consumers in America are safeguarded from the potential dangers of buying e-cigarette products from unauthorized manufacturers and unqualified manufacturers in the vape industry.
Despite the FDA stepping into the vape industry to regulate vaping, manufactures are taking initiative to create safer vaporizers for the public to use. The twenty-first century is a time when technological advancements are exceedingly overwhelming. And these technological advancements extend well into the e-cigarette industry. With today’s standards of technology, vape manufacturers can incorporate many safety features that allow consumers to vape peacefully without the worry of explosions. There are two types of e-cigarettes in the market today, regulated and unregulated e-cigarettes. Unregulated e-cigarettes are the most dangerous type of e-cigarettes in the market. This type of e-cigarette is composed of three basic pieces: the cylindrical metal body, the atomizer that is attached on top of the body, and a removable button that is usually located at the bottom of the device.
Consumers who buy unregulated e-cigarettes, also known as mechanical mods, need to understand the risk of possible explosion that can occur if the atomizer is not built property. When I say “built,” I am referring to the type of coil that is situated in the atomizer. Amateur users who customize their “builds” often use the wrong side of the coil which causes the battery to overwork, overheat, then explode. This is why many unregulated e-cigarette manufacturers inform consumers that unregulated e-cigarettes that require “building” are for advanced users. According to KennedyVapor, well-known mechanical e-cigarette manufacturer in the vape community writes under a product disclaimer that “rebuildable atomizers are for the experienced vapers with access to multimeters and a working knowledge of how electronic devices work” (Kennedy Vapor). The combination of the three basic parts of an unregulated e-cigarette can transform the vape into a lethal grenade that can send shrapnel into the users face. However, this danger can be prevented with the knowledge of “vape safety” and “battery safety.” According to NBC’s article titled, E-cig Vendors Say Experience Matters When Vaping, “Vape Con organizers said accidents or explosions happen as a result of user error with mechanical mod vapes when too much power is drawn from the battery” (NBC-2). Rarely are explosions and device malfunctions caused by the manufacturer defects. As a result, armature users are urged to begin with regulated e-cigarettes.
Regulated e-cigarettes are designed with preventative safety features that ensure the safety of users. Generally, regulated e-cigarettes are made up of multiple intricate computer chips and resistors that allow users to adjust the amount of power that is delivered from the high-powered battery to the atomizer. With the use of computer chips, manufacturers can program the device to work safely in a number of ways. Safety features that analyze the atomizer’s electrical resistance that is measured in ohms are implemented on all regulated devices to prevent batteries from overworking and exploding. Another safety feature that is offered with all regulated e-cigarettes is the feature to turn off the device. This feature prevents accidental misfiring that could cause fires and explosions from an overworked battery. With unregulated e-cigarettes, there is no option to turn off the device and to regulate the power that the atomizer receives from the battery. Therefore, unregulated devices are geared towards advanced users who understand the science and mechanism behind e-cigarettes. According to Joey Jux, Vice president of DUVO Life, an official e-cigarette reseller, “the easiest ways to avoid injury are to store your vape outside of your pockets, and only use mechanical mods if you’re experienced” (NBC-2). If the device is in one’s pocket and is pressed against an object without his or her attention, then he or she can suffer from burns caused by the excessive heat that is generated in the atomizer.
Between the use of traditional combustible cigarettes and the use of e-cigarettes, the use of traditional cigarettes does not pose dangers of the explosion. However, the use of combustible cigarettes does pose the danger of causing fires. Without carefully extinguishing the burning butts, traditional cigarettes can cause house fires and forest fires. According to statistics provided by UC Davis Health, “Smoking causes an estimated 30 percent of fire deaths in the United States and 10 percent of fire deaths worldwide” (UC Davis Health). And in 1947, the FBI blamed an unextinguished cigarette butt in Texas City for one of the worst industrial death tolls in American history that caused “nearly 600 deaths, 380 hospitalizations longer than two months, 4,100 casualties, and damage to more than 90 percent of the cityÕs buildings at a cost of more than $4 billion” (UC Davis Health). In contrast to e-cigarettes, there has not been any recorded evidence of any major fires that ignited as a result of an e-cigarette. Moreover, explosions of e-cigarettes result from user error and are merely isolated events. I argue that the physical features of e-cigarettes are indeed safer than the physical features of combustible cigarettes. Due to the fact that one out of the two types of e-cigarettes has built-in safety feature while traditional cigarettes do not have any safeguards that prevent disasters. Based on the evidence provided above in regards to the safety features associated with regulated e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes, those who argue that e-cigarettes are dangerous merely because of device explosions should consider reviewing the recorded evidence.
However, those who argue that the ingredients used to produce vape liquid are far more toxic than the ingredients used to manufacture traditional cigarettes may be right to some degree. There are four basic ingredients used by all major vape liquid manufacture: Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerin (VG), Nicotine (Nicotine is not always used in vape juice), Flavoring, and Water. The ingredients that vary across vape liquid manufactures are thousands of different flavorings that can be mixed to suit the taste of consumers. Analyzing the other ingredients, we can see that some of these ingredients used in vape liquid are actually ingredients we come in contact to on a regular basis. Propylene glycol is a synthetic ingredient that is used in antifreeze, food, medicine, and beverages. Because there are many applications of propylene glycol, the quality of this ingredient varies. Most manufactures of vape liquid use food-grade propylene glycol. However, inhalation of food-grade propylene glycol is not completely harmless. Under extreme temperatures, propylene glycol “can undergo dehydration over basic catalysts to produce propylene oxide (PO)” (Dimple). And according to the International Agency for Research, propylene oxide is classified as a group 2B carcinogen (IARC Classification). Carcinogens classified under group 2B have limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less evidence in animals (IARC Classification). That being said, propylene oxide is not a serious threat. Moreover, not all of the ingredients used to manufacture vape liquid are synthetic.
A commonly used natural ingredient in vape liquid is vegetable glycerin. This ingredient is naturally derived from either palm oil or coconut oil and is commonly found in the foods we eat and some of the cosmetic products we use. According to Nutrients Review, “Food-grade glycerin may be added as a humectant (wetting agent), thickener, solvent or sweetener to dairy products (cream), canned goods, confections, fondant, processed fruits, jams, energy bars, and other foods” (Nutrients Review). Vegetable glycerin has many benefits in the medical world. Doctors often use vegetable glycerin to treat burns due to the moisture attracting characteristic it has. Similar to propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin has many useful applications that people use throughout the world. However, nicotine, on the other hand, maybe the more harmful ingredient that e-cigarette users must consider as a possible danger to their health.
Nicotine is a toxic ingredient that is the chief active constituent in vape liquid. This ingredient is derived naturally from tobacco plants. Nicotine is extremely toxic, and a drop of pure nicotine can kill a person. According to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Standard textbooks, databases, and safety sheets consistently state that the lethal dose for adults is 60 mg or less (30–60 mg)” (US National Center for Biotechnology Information). Nicotine manufacturers who cater to vape liquid manufacturers use a mixture of vegetable glycerin and nicotine that contains a concentrated amount of 100 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter. Due to the toxicity of nicotine, federal law mandates that all vape liquid bottles must be child-proof. However, no matter how child-proof a bottle of vape liquid is, children still manage to get a hold of it. According to an NBC news article written by Gillian Mohney, a one-year-old child from Fort Plain, New York died from ingesting vape liquid (Mohney). Compared to traditional cigarettes, vape liquids are much more toxic and dangerous. The concentration of nicotine can vary between manufacturers; but generally, vape liquid manufacturers offer liquids with concentrations of 3mg/ml, 6mg/ml, and 16mg/ml. Any amount of nicotine above these three commonly used concentration amounts is extremely poisonous and should be avoided. Even at 3mg/ml, adults can die from ingesting the only 20ml of vape liquid and the amounts are significantly smaller for children. Nicotine is not only used in vape liquids, but they are also used in traditional cigarettes.
When one smokes a traditional cigarette, nicotine should be the least of their worries in terms of their health. Virginia Reichert, director of the Center for Tobacco Control, states that “People smoke to get the addictive drug, nicotine, but the drug alone does not cause cancer…a cigarette full of hundreds of toxic chemicals that are inhaled along with nicotine, does” (Reichert). With this being the case, tobacco smokers should be worried about the dozens of other harmful additives in cigarettes. Additives like lead, arsenic, acetic acid, tar, acetone, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, ammonia, cadmium, and other additives are extremely toxic and can be life-threatening. Moreover, according to Quit Smoking Community, an average cigarette contains about 6 milligrams of nicotine (How Much Nicotine Is in a Cigarette?). While the lethal dosage of nicotine for adults is 60 milligrams, it would take on average a person to ingest 10 cigarettes to obtain this lethal dosage. Note that the lungs do not absorb all 6 milligrams of nicotine if the smoke is inhaled; however, when ingested, all nicotine is absorbed. As compared to an average 30-milliliter size bottle of vape liquid with 3 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter, it would only take a person to ingest an average of 20 milliliters of vape liquid to obtain this lethal dosage. Although, both the nicotine contained in traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes are extremely poisonous, I believe that the liquid nicotine contained in vape liquid is more prone to accidental ingestion, which makes e-liquids more toxic and dangerous than traditional cigarettes. What happens when the ingredients in traditional cigarettes are combusted, and when the ingredients in vape liquid are heated? The vapor produced by e-cigarettes is thick and looks much more intimidating than the smoke from combusted cigarettes.
However, the appearance of second-hand vapor may only be a terrifying disguise. According to research conducted by Igor Burstyn, an Associate Professor at Drexel University, “There was no evidence of potential for exposures of e-cigarette users to contaminants that are associated with a risk to health at a level that would warrant attention if it were involuntary workplace exposures” (Burstyn). His results surprisingly yielded less VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) in e-cigarette vapor than in a regular work environment and state that e-cigarette vapor “poses no apparent concern” for bystanders (Burstyn). Another research conducted by Rana Tayyarah and Gerald long analyze the trace elements of eight common HPHCs (Harmful and Potentially Harmful Constituents). In their research, they analyzed e-cigarette vapor and also traditional combusted cigarette smoke. Their results concluded that the HPHCs in e-cigarette vapor “was consistent with the air blanks” and the HPHCs in “mainstream cigarette smoke were 1500 times higher than e-cigarette HPHCs” (Tayyarah & Long). Based on their research, a second-hand vapor is essentially the same as breathing regular air. The scientific evidence provided through the research of Tayyarah, Long, and Burstyn rebut people’s claim that e-cigarette vapor imposes serious health threats to bystanders.
Is vaping bad for your health?
Are E-cigarettes Safer Than Tobacco?