10 Things to Know about the Health Effects of E-cigarettes
If you overhear employees talking about their favorite flavors being mango, mint, or cool cucumber, you might assume that they’re referring to their last trip to the smoothie shop. However, they could also be talking about a different, less healthy topic–electronic cigarettes.
E-cigarettes, also called mods, e-hookahs, vape pens, tank systems, and electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery-powered devices that allow people to inhale or “vape” aerosolized liquid into their lungs. E-cigarettes produce this aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine mixed with a base (usually propylene glycol), fruity flavorings, coloring, and other chemicals.
Available in 460 different brands, e-cigarettes come in a variety of forms, including shapes that resemble USB flash drives, regular cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and pens. Some devices, including those from Juul, can be plugged into a computer for charging.
As popularity of e-cigarettes soars, so does misinformation, such as their effectiveness in helping smokers quit. There’s much still to be learned about the health risks of e-cigarettes, including their effect on smokers and those around them. To help you get up to speed, here’s a quick roundup of the latest stats and health research.
E-cigarette usage is a major public health concern. In just a year, sales of Juul electronic cigarettes jumped 641 percent, according to a recent report from the CDC, noting that Juul Labs sold 16.2 million devices in 2017. E-cigarettes as a category have become the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the US, according to the CDC. A recent study by RAND Corporation states that young people who use vaping products are not only more likely to smoke cigarettes, but are also likely to increase their use of both products over time. The CDC reports that 3.2 percent of US adults are e-cigarette users, and almost 60 percent of people who use e-cigarettes also currently smoke conventional cigarettes.
The growth in usage led the US Surgeon General to categorize e-cigarettes as a public health threat, especially among young adults.
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine poses several health hazards, including an increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal disorders. According to Penn State Health, one Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of regular cigarettes. JUUL contains among the highest nicotine content of any e-cigarette on the US market.
Vaping has adverse health effects. Reported side effects of vaping include increased heart rate and blood pressure, lung disease, chronic bronchitis, and insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes. The US Dept. of Health and Human services notes that e-cigarettes can expose users to several chemicals, including nicotine, carbonyl compounds, and volatile organic compounds, known to have adverse health effects.
Flavored e-cigarettes may pose additional health threats. Harvard Health reports that flavored e-cigarettes often contain the chemical compound diacetyl. It is associated with a rare lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, that causes permanent damage to the bronchioles, which are the tiniest airways in the lungs.
Pregnant women should avoid e-cigarettes. Nicotine can cross the placenta and has known effects on fetal and postnatal development. HHS states that nicotine delivered by e-cigarettes during pregnancy can result in multiple adverse consequences, including sudden infant death syndrome, and could result in altered corpus callosum, deficits in auditory processing, and obesity.
E-cigarettes emit harmful secondhand smoke. The vapor exhaled by e-cigarette users contains carcinogens and is a risk to nearby nonusers.
Explosion is possible. One of the biggest safety risks of e-cigarettes is the potential for their lithium-ion batteries to explode, sometimes into a person’s face or eyes.
Are e-cigarettes less harmful than regular cigarettes? While the CDC answer to this question is yes, it adds this disclaimer: “that doesn’t mean e-cigarettes are safe.” It notes that e-cigarette aerosol contains fewer toxic chemicals than the deadly mix of 7,000 chemicals in smoke from regular cigarettes. HHS adds that because the devices are relatively new compared to cigarettes, the health effects and potentially harmful doses of heated and aerosolized constituents of e-cigarette liquids, including solvents, flavorants, and toxicants, are not yet completely understood.
Ongoing studies are evaluating the role of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. One part of the public health community argues that e-cigarettes could help lower nicotine cravings for those who are trying to quit smoking. This study notes that the use of e-cigarettes is associated with smoking cessation and reduction, adding that randomized controlled trials are still needed to assess effectiveness against other cessation methods.
However, another study of adult smokers in Europe found those who used e-cigarettes were less likely to have stopped smoking than those that didn’t use e-cigarettes. Those that used e-cigarettes also smoked more conventional cigarettes than those who didn’t.
The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices. The FDA has regulatory authority over tobacco products—including e-cigarettes and other vaping products, cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah and pipe tobacco. While the FDA has not approved e-cigarettes for smoking cessation, it has a full list of approved smoking cessation products that may help you with programs for employees who are trying to quit. Alternatively, virtual reality technology companies also offer addiction treatment VR scenarios for people wanting to control nicotine use.