If you are a smoker and are searching for alternatives to cigarettes or other tobacco products; if you are a smoker and want to decrease the chemicals that are polluting your lungs daily; if you are a smoker and you are seeking to quit smoking, you may have found one alternative very intriguing: e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes were introduced to the market in China in 2004. These devices vaporize liquid contained in a cartridge. The cartridge typically contains nicotine and various flavoring agents as well as other chemicals. When the element is heated, the liquid volatilizes and the user draws the vapor into their lungs. The e-cigarette has been touted by manufacturers as an alternative to smoking, as a smoking cessation device, and as a smokeless nicotine delivery system. But, with all of the hype, how safe is this alternative device? How safe is the liquid that is atomized and drawn into the users’ lungs continuously?
There is very little argument that, when compared with tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars, e-cigarettes are likely less dangerous to use. There are certainly less toxic and carcinogenic chemicals inhaled and released into the environment and there are no cigarette butts to contend with after the fact. In addition, there is no ash or tar. So, there are clear advantages to using e-cigarettes if the aim is to decrease toxicity.
However, the toxicity levels of e-cigarettes and e-liquids that are in the cartridges are not zero and as a smoking cessation tool, it is unproven.
Most e-liquid cartridges have been found to be substandard, leaky and made with materials that are not environmentally safe. Furthermore, the liquids contain nitrosamines and propylene glycol, high levels of nicotine, along with other sometimes unknown chemicals. While e-cigarette manufacturers consistently say that this mixture is safe, the fact is that there have been no independent scientific studies that study the safety of these liquids, especially while inhaled.
The claim is that many of these chemicals are used in food products, but once again, there is a difference between processing chemicals in the stomach and GI tract and processing them in volatile form in delicate lung tissue. While the GI tract has the wherewithal to process chemicals or send them to the liver if they are toxic, the lungs do not. So, if there are toxins in e-liquids, they will likely remain in lung tissue for long periods of time.
Small clinical experiments have been conducted to see how much of the nicotine in e-liquids make it into the body. Since these are small, uncontrolled experiments, the data vary wildly. In fact, you can pick and choose which to quote in order to support your personal opinion. One study found that there is only a small amount of nicotine (about 10% or less) making it into the bloodstream. Another study found significant blood nicotine levels, and concluded that one can easily reach the level of nicotine poisoning – a frightening prospect.
The upshot of all of this data is that e-liquids are unregulated, untested and full of unknowns. Are e-liquids toxic? The real answer is that we do not know until they are scientifically tested and to believe otherwise can be dangerous to your health.