Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe: The Shocking Truth

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by: James Dunworth

If you’re like me, when you first heard of the electronic cigarette you immediately wondered what was wrong with it. In fact, it was a fortunate comment left by a researcher, now a good friend, in the very very early days of this blog which reassured me (and lead to our Interviews with Scientists series).

I think I have learnt a lot about the safety of electronic cigarette since then. Most of this information is on our website or blog somewhere, but I’ve tried to bring it together in one post. If you are new to e-cigarettes, hopefully this will answer your questions and fears – and if you’re not new, let me know if I am missing anything!

Oh – you also want to what the shocking truth is? You’ll have to read on to find out…

What’s Wrong With Smoking?

Smoking

Despite some of the dramatic use of the ingredients of tobacco cigarettes (one, hydrogen cyanide, was used in Nazi death camps – another, formaldehyde, has been used to preserve corpses), it is the way you use tobacco cigarettes which is the problem.

When you burn tobacco, you produce smoke. As the smoke cools down, it produces both tar and hundreds of chemicals. Indeed, according to tobacco harm reduction experts, we have yet to identify many of the chemicals in cigarette smoke.

We do know that dozens of them are carcinogenic.

Electronic Cigarette Safety

3d man with fire extinguisher.

Fortunately, and in contrast to tobacco cigs, there’s no risk of fire with e-cigs.

In contrast, and after a number of analyses, we know exactly what is in electronic cigarettes. The principal ingredient is propylene glycol, which is used in dozens of applications, including medicine, asthma inhalers, cosmetics, foods, to sterilise drinking water, in air-conditioners – and to produce stage smoke!

Propylene glycol has been used since the mid-20th century, and is generally considered safe for inhalation, although a small minority of people may be allergic to it. (If you are allergic to propylene glycol, try using vegetable glycerine instead.)

Most e-cigarettes also contain nicotine. While not entirely healthy (its effects are similar to caffeine), nicotine is not carcinogenic, and carries a fraction of the risk of burning tobacco.(For more information see: Nicotine: 10 facts all users should know.)

In a study summarising the analyses of the electronic cigarette, Professor Siegel concluded:

none of the more than 10,000 chemicals present in tobacco smoke, including over 40 known carcinogens, has been shown to be present in the cartridge or vapor of electronic cigarettes in anything greater than trace quality … they [electronic cigarettes] are undoubtedly safer than tobacco cigarettes

Source: Electronic Cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy for tobacco control: A step forward or a repeat of past mistakes?

What Do Scientists Think About The Electric Cigarette?

Scientist considering whether e-cigarettes are safe.

Scientists we have spoken to have generally said that while not safe in absolute terms, electronic cigarettes are a lot safer for you than cigarettes.

Perhaps the most dramatically expressed opinion of an expert is that of David Sweanor, who told me:

Rather than the unattainable standard of ‘safe’ we should be thinking in terms of ‘safer’…. Despite the risks associated with soccer, I would, for instance, prefer my children play soccer rather than play with live hand grenades.

The UK government’s Nudge Unit agreed, stating:

There’s no doubt it can save many lives and hundreds of millions of pounds.

Professor John Britton, chair of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians Source, believes:

If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.

And here is what Professor Carl Phillips told us:

(If you found this movie useful, please consider sharing it or embedding it in your site.)

Are There Short Term Health Benefits With Electronic Cigarettes?

What we know about electronic cigarettes is based on science, and analyses of the ingredients. As the devices have been used for less than 10 years, we don’t have empirical evidence of the longer term effect of cigarettes.

It’s a different matter for short term effects, though.

In 2009, we carried out a survey with the University of Alberta asking how smokers felt after switching to the electronic cigarette. The results seemed clear:

Chart showing vaper's assessment of their health after switching to e-cigs.

How vapers felt about their health in our survey.

You can see more graphs here,  read an academic summary of the survey here: E Cigarettes as Potential Tobacco Harm Reduction Projects.

Also see: How Do Electronic Cigarettes Affect Your Lungs: A Thousand Vapers Answer 

So Are E-Cigarettes Safe or Dangerous?

coffee

No, e-cigarettes are not safe or healthy. At least, not in absolute terms. Scientists estimate that they carry around 1-2% of the risk of smoking, which is about the same health risk you get from drinking a cup of coffee.

They are, however, an awful lot safer for you than regular cigarettes.

So what’s the shocking truth?

The shocking truth is that despite the fact that e-cigarettes have the ability to save your life – as well as millions of others – they do not have the support they deserve.

In New Zealand e-cigarettes containing nicotine are banned. Although the government admits they are safer than cigarettes, they worry it could affect their official policy of ‘denormalising’ smokers.

In the Middle East the device is banned, with press stories claiming the device contains 100 or more times as much nicotine as a regular cigarette.

While the device is legal in the US, anti-smoking organisations are financed by pharmaceutical companies selling competing nicotine products to campaign against the device.

And the EU commission is currently trying to ban the e-cigarette, with one MEP highlighting the loss of tax revenue caused by the popularity of the e-cigarette.

Shocking, isn’t it?

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51 Responses to “Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe: The Shocking Truth”

  1. Glen January 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    Great info, I didn’t know ecigarettes were banned in New Zealand.

    Do you know if the nicotine patches also contain the same or similar ingredients in them as the e-cigs do?

  2. James February 27, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    Hi Glen, Sorry, I missed your comment! I am not an expert, but interestingly the level of tobacco specific nitrosamines is lower in electronic cigarettes than in nicotine patches.

  3. Claire March 17, 2012 at 4:24 am #

    Has anyone seen or tried the Smoke mate pro lung e cigarette? It claims that not only is it unharmful, but it is actually good for you and can reverse the damage cigarettes do! I gave up smoking 8 years and 4 months ago but I still miss the cigs so much & would love to try these, however I have recently discovered that I may have done irreprable damage to my lungs when I smoked and have to go for a lung capacity test next week so dont want to risk believing it to find out its false. They do have FDA approval so surely that means something.
    I would love to hear everyones thoughts.

    • James March 17, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      Claire, that is bollocks.

      1. The e-cig is not actually good for you – it is just vastly better than smoking.
      2. The FDA have not approved any e-cigarettes, and if they did they would not allow the claim to be made it is healthy in an absolute sense.

      I’d steer clear of this company. If they are making claims like this, what else are they doing – and can you trust them to test their e-liquid properly?

  4. glynis June 1, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    i have copd and was told for my own good to stop smoking ,so i went straight out and purchased the matchless ecig and it is brill ,i have not wanted a real cig all day,lets hope tomorrow will be the same ,but lets face it when the goverment realise that more and more peeps are looking after there health by buying these ecigs they will go up and up and up ,so stock up before the greedy bunch of lazy money grabbing dishonest ruthless hypocrits are able to bleed you dry cos they will bunch of tw**s

  5. Sue June 4, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    I have been a smoker for 40 years. The last 3 years of smoking I was on 40 a day. I gave up 2 1/2 years ago and now am on the e-cig.I could not touch another real cigerette now, in fact, I hate the smell of them.

  6. snaapz July 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    I’m, and my GF, a smoker for 10+ years. We agree that we are not addicted to nicotine.,… we just like the art of smoking.

    We tried an E-Cig (Non nicotine, in Canada) and we felt like our lives just changed for the better … for ever.

    This is a million dollar product… someone just needs to form a solid business and provide decent flavours and true tobacco flavours that you can feel and taste (Winston, Camel, Marlboro, Du Maurier (Canada) Players (Canada)) — I couldn’t care less about the juice containing nicotine… I’d rather not have it contain the nic … the nic is what the gov will use to control this life saver …

    the gov will lose $$$$$$’s in taxes on loss of tobacco sales and the tobacco companies are aware of the loss of revenue they are facing once this E-Cigarette becomes pop’

    I can’t stop smoking, I have heart palpitations and shortness of breath. E-Cig is the only thing that keeps me from smoking tobacco. My health is much better now.

  7. Stewart July 24, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    just got an e-lite ecig, im 27 and have smoked for the last 12 years, i smoke around 25 a day, got my ecig at 1pm today and its now 11.36pm and ive not touched a real cig and i wasnt even planning on quiting till the start of next month but im confident i have already started due to this ecig. Excellent product if the government try making a fortune out of this product i will know for sure the world is ruled by selfish assholes.

  8. Tony July 31, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    I purchased an e cig kit only yesterday having seen my uncle die of lung cancer and seen photos of people wired up days before dying, i had tried patches which were a waste of time.

    I dont feel ready to give up smoking, so changing to e cigs is already making me feel better and at least now no need to roll another cig, buy tobacco or refill my zippo lighter and it’s only day one great! :-)

  9. Tam August 6, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    Ive been off cigs for 12 weeks now, today I felt a real urge to buy a packet…… But I bought a dispossible e cig …. Best thing I’ve bought yet… Fantastic, It did feel strange seeing the smoke from a plastic ciggy, but I’m not smelly or out of breath…. I feel great not smoking.

  10. Jim August 29, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    Not a a reAl cig fir 4 weeks now , the e cigs are the best thing that’s happened to this country , hopefully many more people will follow suit and try them out, had my doubts and thought it’s just another rip off in the shops but can’t fault them . If your reading this post and are in doubt , go on just buy 1, you won’t be disappointed .

    • James August 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Jim, glad it is working for you.

  11. Daniel August 31, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    I have been smoking for last 20 year but i couldn’t stop the cigarette. After having e-cigarette now i feeling better and may health is also good.

  12. Ravsta September 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    I’ve been smoking since I was 16 and I’ve just turned 40 a few weeks ago. My sister sent me the e-lites cigarrette kit as a birthday present. It’s probably the most kindest and thoughtful gift someone has ever given me. Going from 20 Marlboro Lights per day to e-lites has been fantastic. Like others have already stated, I no longer smell, I feel much healthier, I sleep better and it’s half the cost! Also I have noticed that I’m smoking less so maybe one day I can also give up e-lites? regardless of what people say, it’s got to be better than smoking a real cigi. Oh and once you’ve been smoking these e-lites you really begin to detest the smell of real cigarrettes. My 2 cents worth.

  13. austin cxardozo September 16, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Are you making up your own question and answers could you tell me what liquid you can provid so I can stop surly ,ya, it seems people like to use the e-cig but is it wrong to want to use it as an aid to stopping everything surly we have that choice ???
    austyn

  14. prem September 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    I was a chain smoker since last 16 years. I got my e-cig kit in 2011. The moment I tried it, I knew that I am rid of regular cigarette. It’s been 4 months I am using e-cig and I can really feel the difference health wise. Today, I don’t even think of smoking regular cigarette. E-cig is a great option for smokers who are fed up of smoking.

  15. Sue Thornton January 8, 2013 at 12:33 am #

    I have been smoking about 25 a day for 10 years. I have tried patches and sprays and false ciggies but nothing has worked for me. I bought an electronic vapour ciggie 6 days ago and haven’t touched a ciggie since and have almost no desire to. Can’t believe how successful this has been for me up to now. Fingers crossed I can keep it up. The vapouriser was £40 but well worth it and will save me money in the long term. xx

    • James January 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

      That’s fantastic, Sue, I hope it continues to work for you!

  16. Kasper April 7, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Hi.

    I’m 27 and stopped smoking instantly, using the e-cigaret.
    I’ve been on the e-cig for bout11 months now and regulated from 24mg down to 12mg atm.

    The e-cigaret is the absolute most brilliant idea, even astmatics and people with similar lungproblems, have the opportunity to stop smoking and start living again.

    I give it 10/10, what are you waiting for? :)

  17. Rem April 12, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    Hello,
    After thirtyfive years of smoking, i didnt smoke for one whole day! Thats unbelievable, thanks to the e-sig.

  18. Nicholas May 7, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    i im a severe agoraphobic. Quitting cigarettes is very difficult for people with a mental illness. how often do you see the most disadvantaged members of society smoking like chimneys? Alot of psychiatric hospitals have now banned smoking which dosen’t help with patient compliance. In Australia you’re paying about $15 dollars per packet of 20,s. If we could get people on pensions to use ecigs they’d save alot of money and of course reduce their need of medical intervention in later life. generally smokers going through the quitting process wouldn’t have problems like weight gain and the anger and depression that nicotine withdrawl causes. There wouldn’t be a decrease in work performance either. also we wouldn’t incur the wrath of non smokers who can smell it on our clothes. you can smell cigarette smoke from hundreds of meters away. For myself im now getting more oxygen, my sense of smell has improved, just about all the benefits of ceasing tobacco use are occurring, yet i have the luxury of getting my nicotine through the ecig.

  19. dazz May 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Iv been smoking since i was 11 im now 29 bought an ecig a week ago and avent wanted for a real fag in that time

  20. ben June 14, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    hi fellow vapors
    been a smoker for 30 years. Been vaping for a month now and no desire for a analog cig at all. I had one about 2 weeks ago but didnt even finish it, tasted like shite. These e-cigs are great for people like me who find not smoking very difficult. Ive also saved a lot of money already and I feel better.

  21. joey bishop June 19, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    I have tried everthingAnd yes this is the future people> I honestly feel this e-cig is the answer we have been waiting for,I have reeked hell on my body with smoking all these years,I pray for all the smokers out there,Who like myself have have been ripped off by the tabacoo companys and the tax man<<good luck and try any e-smoke

  22. vapor shop July 1, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I have no doubt in my mind that e-cigs are “safer” but I’ve also been hearing that nicotine levels in some e-cigs are much higher then regular cigs. Any insight on this topic?

    • James Dunworth July 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

      You can choose what level of nicotine you want in an electronic cigarette, and it is possible to get one with a higher nicotine content than the average cigarette. However, bear in mind that you absorb more nicotine from a regular cigarette than you do from an electronic cigarette, so you generally need to go a strength higher to actually get the same amount of nicotine into your blood stream.

  23. Elaine July 7, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    I have been using the e-cig eGoCE4 since 12th June 2013. It is the best thing i have ever done! Believe it or not i was 11 years old when i started smoking and i am now 53! I sleep alot better now as i was waking myself up coughing, i feel 100% better in myself! I can’t believe how much better i feel in only just over 3 weeks. If anyone is thinking they should give up smoking, i highly recommend trying the eGoCE4 with the many flavours you can buy. My initial outlay for this cost me less than buying 100 normal fags!!

    • James Dunworth July 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      The CE4s are great, but we are moving our products towards CE4s (the Smoker’s Halo Ultra and Tank-1 kits come with CE5 clearomisers). CE5′s can be stripped down and cleaned and come with replaceable atomisers and wicks.

  24. Devlin July 14, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    I can tell you the cause for campaigning against the electronic cigarrettes, is because thats money out of the Pharmaceutical pockets.

  25. Will September 14, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Hi. I’m only now getting involved in electronic cigarettes as I’ve always been sceptical of replacing one delivery means for another whilst still using the same drug.

    However the more I read, the more I realise removing the combustion from the equation is a great place to start thinking about minimising the harms I’m doing to myself through smoking.

    So I’ve set up a website (http://electronic-cigarett.es) and I intend to learn as much as I can and then write about it on my own blog.

    In the meantime, I’ll be checking in here on ecigarettedirect.co.uk.

    Thanks for creating a great resource.

    Will – South Wales (the old one)

  26. ryan December 4, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    It’s early days on the nicofresh starter clearomiser and I’m not enjoying it… The taste isn’t there, the ‘smoke’ isn’t thick and just hurts my throat to enhale and exhale. Any idea on what’s going on?

    • James Dunworth December 4, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      Hi Ryan, I have never heard of the nicofresh clearomiser, I am afraid! If you are not getting enough vapour, then you probably need a different model. Might first be worth checking with the retailer to see if there is a problem with the model you have, and that you are using it correctly.

      Hurting your throat could be down to the eliquid you are using. Try a different eliquid, or try one made with vegetable glycerine (vg) rather than with propylene glycol (pg) like this one: http://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/virginia-vg-e-liquid.html , as some people are allergic to pg.

  27. Lee December 11, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    im wondering what effect nicotine actually has on people and if its maybe psychological? I dont think anyone smokes 1 cigarette and feels the nicotine and thinks ‘Thats the correct amount of nicotine i need’. When I smoked cigarettes, i dont think i felt any actual effect from nicotine. It was just for the habbit of getting up and doing something.
    Im pretty sure that a few weeks ago when ordering a new batch of liquids, I whizzed through really quickly and forgot to choose the strength and i got sent the default 0mg, and never even noticed until i went to order the next lot and realised there was a drop down box for the stength.
    Anyway, ive been vaping for a year now, and im proud of myself. Seamlessly made the switch, and never wanted to go back. Cant stand the smell of tobacco now. Nothings been as effective as ecigs.
    The only issue im having is trying to dissociate myself from smokers, as a lot of ignorrant people out there still think of it as smoking and treat you like scum, not realising that we’ve managed something incredible. I always say ‘You wouldnt have a go at someone standing out in the cold and breathing heavyily so they can see their breath, thats basically what im doing. Im just an idiot standing outside in the cold for no reason’

  28. Ken Scott December 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Been smoking since I was 10 years old am now 65 and smoked nearly 60 a day last 15 years hand rolled because of costs. Stopped 5 days ago went cold turkey 3 days later bought my fist e-cig never looked back since.

    Best thing I ever did and finally got rid of the cigs at last compared to other stop smoking aids (they never worked for me ) e-cigs have first time I tried them.

  29. tom January 15, 2014 at 12:13 am #

    Iam 42 smoked 25 a day I started vip ecigi 7days ago I dont feel any better but I dont feel the need to smoke normal ciggies any more do yes they to make you stop whitch is good I just my breathing becomes better

    • James Dunworth January 15, 2014 at 12:15 am #

      Glad to hear you are breathing better, would be interested to see if you notice any difference after a month.

  30. Bill January 28, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Long time smoker, 2 1/2 years stinky free. Just like lots of posts here…. But have you thought about the costs?

    I usually spent between $200 and $250 A MONTH on analogs. In those two and a half years I have spent about $800.00. I have a nice selection of mods, tanks, batteries, and assorted juices.

    DO THE MATH!

    • James Dunworth January 28, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

      And I suspect mod enthusiasts spend more than the average vaper :)

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