E-cigarettes: Are they safe?
An article in this week's Nature magazine* studies the new phenomenon pouring out of Chinese factories, complete with a glowing LED tip which glows like the real thing, as the user draws on the tube of the personal vaporizer or ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery system) and an atomizer delivers a fix of nicotine. Welcome to the E-cigarette.
The E-cigarette market is mushrooming. During 2013, an average of ten new brands were being launched every month and the total available online at the beginning of this year was some 466 E-cigarette products. Why the huge interest? The idea of the E-cigarette is that it gives a nicotine fix but does not have the harmful chemicals present in a conventional cigarette. The scientific world, according to the article, could not be more divided on this Chinese invention (the Chinese scientist Hon Lik, working for the Shenzen-based company, now Ruyan, is credited for the invention of the original product).
Those in favor
Those in favor are basically the people who claim that by eliminating the harmful chemicals contained in conventional cigarettes, it is obvious that E-cigarettes must be safer, reducing the risk of cancer and other health problems caused by smoking. The chemical which constitutes the bulk of the liquid that is vaporized in E-cigarettes is the same one used for making smoke on thrater stages, Propylene glycol, and according to the article, the studies on the effect of long-term consumption of this compound are scant.
Some claim that using E-cigarettes could be a gateway towards using the real thing later on, on the psychological front and on the physical, the article mentions links to genetic changes in human bronchial cells which are exposed to the vapor from E-cigarettes, similar to the changes caused by conventional cigarette smoking. Also, the article quotes a source which claims that the nitric oxide exhaled by the smoker of the e-cigarette, like the conventional one, is reduced, which points towards an alteration in lung function.
In Brazil and Singapore, E-cigarettes are banned. Period. In the USA and the European Union, the regulation of E-cigarettes has been fraught with legal and administrative difficulties. The World Health Organization has come out in favor of restricting the use of E-cigarettes indoors, banning certain flavors and selling E-cigarettes only to those over eighteen years of age.
*E-cigarettes: The lingering questions, by Daniel Cressey