Are electronic cigarettes bad for you? The shocking truth.
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by: James Dunworth

Are ecigs bad for you? The answer is probably yes.

But if you change the question to: Are electronic cigarettes safer than tobacco cigarettes?

You’d get a very different answer, at least from scientists involved in ecigarette research.

That’s because while ecigarettes are not healthy for you in an absolute sense, many scientists believe they could be 100 or more times safer than their tobacco equivalents.

The Science Behind Electronic Cigarettes

A pharmacologist in a white coat in a laboratory.

Pharmacologist Gwyn Taylor analyses an eliquid base in the Smoker’s Angel laboratory.

“If there is anyone who believes cigarettes are no more hazardous than e-cigarettes I’d recommend a remedial course in basic sciences.”

David Sweanor, winner of a WHO medal in tobacco control. Click here for more ecigarette quotes.

One criticism of electronic cigarettes is that we don’t know the long term effects of using them.

(A number of studies, though, have demonstrated the short term benefits of ecigarettes – including an increased ability to exercise and a reduced or eliminated smoker’s cough.)

So why do so many scientists believe ecigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes. The answer is 1. basic science and 2. The ingredients used.

Eliminating The Harmful Part of Cigarettes

Burning cigarette with smoke on black background.

The big problem with cigarettes is not the nicotine but the smoke you breathe in.

When you burn cigarettes, you create smoke.

In this smoke are thousands of chemicals, dozens of which are carcinogenic (cancer causing).

The idea with e cigarettes is to eliminate the part which causes you most of the harm (smoke, tar, carcinogens) replace it with well-studied alternatives that mimic the smoke and throat hit you get when you smoke (propylene glycol, in use since the second world war, and vegetable glycerine) and retain the part which you enjoy (nicotine).

Carcinogens in ECigarettes

The point was well proven by an FDA analysis of eliquid.

Despite using innovative techniques to study ecigarette ingredients at a minute level (the FDA were looking at parts per trillion) , the FDA only found one possibly carcinogenic agent (nitrosamines) in eliquid, and that at quantities 14,000 times lower than those found in Marlboro cigarettes.

(See Nitrosamines in Electronic Cigarettes: Do You Need To Worry? for more information.) And when the actual vapour was tested, no carcinogens were found at all. You can see the results of nitrosamines compared against other products in the table below:

Comparison of nitrosamines in ecigs and Marlboro cigarettes.

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In recent years a huge amount of studies have been conducted into electronic cigarettes.

While it’s not possible to quote every study here (if you would like to read more, I recommend visiting ECigaretteResearch and CASAA), here are 8 key studies you need to know about if you are worried about ecigarette safety.

1. The Long Term Effects of Inhaling Pure Nicotine

A rat vaping an electronic cigarette.

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To find out the effects of inhaling pure nicotine, researchers put rats into a chamber and pumped in nicotine for 20 hours a day, five days a week over two years.

The effects?

No increase in death rate, and tumours, although there was some weight loss!

See Inhaling Nicotine Doesn’t Hurt But It Could Make You Thinner Say Researchers for more information.

For more studies on nicotine, check out this great post on ECigaretteReviewed.

2. Inhaling Propylene Glycol

“The visible vapor emitted by electronic cigarettes is propylene glycol, which the FDA lists as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), which is widely used as fog in theatrical productions, and whose exposure to humans has been extensively studied.”

Bill Godshall, MPH, Executive Director of Smokefree Pennsylvania

Propylene Glycol, a key ingredient in your ecigarette, has been used for decades, and is used in asthma inhalers and in air-conditioners.

In fact, it’s even been used to sterilise the air in children’s wards.

Propylene glycol has been well studied, including one study in which rats and monkeys were made to inhale and ingest high levels of proplyene glycol over a period of 12 months.

The authors of that study argued that their results provided:

Assurance that air containing these [ecig] vapors in amounts up to the saturation point is completely harmless.

Source: Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics

3. Siegel and Cohn Study

A study by Siegel and Cohn reviewed 16 analyses of electronic cigarettes.

They found that none of the ecigarettes analysed had more than trace levels of carcinogens. The authors concluded that:

available evidence shows ecigs to be much safer than cigarettes with similar toxicity to NRT

Source: Palgrave Journals

4. Vaper’s Blood Study

A study by WHO expert Andreas Flouris found that vaping has no effect on your blood stream.

In contrast, smoking lead to an increase in your white blood cell  (lymphocyte, and granulocyte) counts. White blood cells are known to increase when carcinogenic/smoking damages the cells in your body, in order to attack/remove these damaged cells.

Click here for our summary of the full study.

5. Lung Studies

Effects of ecigs on lungs presented in graph format.

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A year ago we asked a thousand vapers about the effects of vaping on their lung capacity.

70% of vapers felt their lung capacity had improved (with 20.2% claiming verified by a GP)

A separate study found that ecigarettes can temporarily cause an increase in your airway resistance.

Although some newspapers reported this as study as proof that ecigarettes cause damage to lungs, scientists such as Professor Siegel argued that an increase airway resistance, which can also be caused by warm humid air, is not lung damage.

Click here for the full story.

6. Heart Study

Dr Farsalinos studied the effect of electronic cigarettes on cardiac function.
He found that ecigarettes had a very slight effect on blood pressure and heart rate, but no acute effects on cardiac function. Dr Farsalinos concluded:

It [the e-cigarette] is the only available product that deals with both the chemical (nicotine delivery) and psychological (inhaling and exhaling ‘smoke’, holding it, etc) addiction to smoking, laboratory analyses indicate that it is significantly less toxic and our study has shown no significant defects in cardiac function after acute use.

See Electronic Cigarettes and Heart Disease for the full story.

7. Inhaling Vegetable Glycerine (also known as Glycerol)

Vegetable glycerine is considered safe for inhalation. A screening assessment sponsored by the UK found that:

The weight of evidence indicates that glycerol is of low toxicity when ingested or inhaled

Source:  Inchem.org

8. Short Term Health Effects

Change in vaper's health after switching to ecigarettes.

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Back in 2009, when there hadn’t been many studies into electronic cigarettes, I worked with researchers from the University of Alberta to study the short term effects of ecigarettes on health.

We found that 90% of vapers reported an improvement in health after switching to electronic cigarettes, despite the majority using ecigarettes for less than six months.

Specific improvements reported including a drop in smoker’s cough, and an increased ability to do exercise. Respondents also reported an improvement in smell and taste.

(For the full results in graph form click here, or click here to see the complete study.)

9. Diacetyl

Diacetyl is the cause of a rare disease in popcorn workers known as popcorn lung. We’ve added a section about it to this blog post because internal testing by a fellow ECITA member found it in one flavour (see the ECITA blog for more information.)

Should you be concerned?

Not really.

1. When diacetyl has been found in eliquid, it has been at levels 10-100 times lower than that found in cigarette smoke. 
2. Diacetyl doesn’t cause popcorn lung in smokers.
3. ECITA members actively test for diacteyl in eliquid, and if any is found the eliquid is withdrawn from sale.

At ECigaretteDirect we’re going a little bit further by introducing in-house GCMS testing, which will enable us to test every batch of eliquid to the same standard as a government approved laboratory.

Areas where you need to be cautious

Read heart set in the middle of medical equipment.

Nicotine and Blood Pressure

While scientists have argued that ecigarettes are better for you than regular cigarettes, it doesn’t mean they are safe in absolute terms.

And we know that, like caffeine, nicotine can raise your blood pressure.

Of course, if it’s a choice between using nicotine with tars and dozens of carcinogens and using just nicotine, you’d be better off with just nicotine.

Eliquid

In a small number of cases, impurities have been found in eliquid, including diethylene glycol (see Diethlyene Glycol in ECigarettes: What You Need To Know for more information).

To avoid the risk of this, make sure you only use suppliers who test their eliquid for these impurities. Our own testing is done in UK government approved labs.

Hardware and Batteries

Additional risks may occur with hardware.

Two problems we have seen include lead used in the solder in batteries and chargers, and chargers that do not have overcharge protection.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that some certificates from China have been falsified. For peace of mind, look for products which have been UK ROHS tested.

NOT Better Than Quitting Completely

Safe doesn’t exist. But electronic cigarettes are low risk compared to regular cigarettes. It’s the equivalent of having a four-wheel-drive Volvo compared to a high-powered motorcycle with bald tires in an ice storm.

David Sweanor (from 32 Great Quotes on ECigarettes)

There are people who will tell you that inhaling anything other than air is not a good idea.

And they are probably right!

But ecigarettes, which use ingredients which have been well studied and which have been approved for inhalation, make sense when they are viewed as an alternative to smoking.

From a health point of view, quitting is the best option. But if you can’t or don’t want to quit, you’re better off with ecigarettes than with tobacco cigarettes.

The Shocking Truth

So if experts think ecigarettes are better for you than tobacco cigarettes, what’s the shocking truth?

The shocking truth, as revealed in leaked memos/letters like this and these, is that large pharmaceutical companies are actively working to destroy the ecigarette industry that threatens billions of pounds in their revenue.

Pharmaceutical companies, which bankroll many doctors, researchers and anti-smoking organisations, want to protect the nicotine cessation industry.

And tobacco companies, while introducing lookalike ecigarettes, don’t want to deal with the competition from the small innovative companies that currently dominate the market.

Now that’s shocking!

Have I missed anything out? Let me know in the comments!

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16 Responses to “Are electronic cigarettes bad for you? The shocking truth.”

  1. Gareth Witty April 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    A very well written post, loads of information and I feel that vaping is much more safer than smoking but at the end of the day its best just to put air in your lungs, but that can depend on the quality of the air

    • James Dunworth April 9, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks, Gareth, and quite agree with your comment on air!

  2. Lin April 9, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Fab article , I have come to my own conclusions on ecigs , I feel better healthwise have reduced my nicotine down to 12mg , and now can taste and smell things better . Surely if they try to stop us from using them all nicotine replacements as in patches etc should be banned too :-(

    • James Dunworth April 9, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

      Thanks, Lin!

      I think for many users how they feel after switching is just as important as all the studies!

  3. Ray April 9, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    Very good article & with many relevant links. This part made me laugh… “There are people who will tell you that inhaling anything other than air is not a good idea.”
    Haha, very good. It sounds like the last argument against vaping, when all other arguments are exhausted !
    Thankyou for the continued & very informative blog. Shared.

    • James April 10, 2014 at 9:04 am #

      Thanks Ray, glad you found the article useful!

  4. Anthony J. Broyles Jr. April 9, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    Now this is the kind of information that needs to be out there. More and more they are trying to keep the truth from getting to the general public. Protecting profits over protecting the lives of the citizens that they have sworn to protect is ridiculous. I say we are smart enough to know that switching to E-Cigarettes is better than analogs. If you want to help us, quit trying to ban the safer alternative in order to make a profit!!!

    • James April 10, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Thanks, Anthony, glad you found it useful!

  5. Gareth Witty April 9, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    As its always been said vaping is better than smoking, but don’t get me wrong, I choose to vape rather than smoke, I know that there still some risks with vaping but when measured against smoking I feel its no worse than breathing in air near a busy road, in fact I feel vaping is even less damaging than that.

    Of course we don’t really know what the flavourings could be doing in our lungs but as far as I have read and seen, its pretty minor when compared to smoke.

    Vaping is still in its infancy and as long as there are decent vendors who sell decent kit and eliquid, I feel its safe to vape :-)

  6. James April 10, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Agreed. I think those who want to ban nicotine entirely forget there have always been vices, there have always been attempt to ban vices and they have always failed. So for those of us who want to enjoy our vices, harm reduction is the way forward (plus with vaping we can enjoy the harm reduction at the same time!)

  7. HUON VALLEY VAPES April 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    We all know that smoking tobacco especially ready made cigarettes is an extra nail for our coffin. Why the governments of major countries do not like vapes is very simple answer. They loose too much revenue by way of excise on tobacco. In Australia the excise on tobacco is 65% on Vapes it is only 10% and unless they increase the Goods and Services Tax or Value added tax as it is known in some countries, they are screwed. Further to this they do not want our populations to live to a ripe old age and smoking and other harmful substances like alcohol; which by the way also generates a very high excise tax for the governments; helps to legally euthanise us all. That way the governments do not have to budget for the care of elderly folk if they die early in life from all these poisons. Nicotine in e-juice will not kill you, but the crap they put in cigarettes certainly will and in a very nasty way. Ever seen anyone die of lung cancer or other respitory diseases caused by smoking. One of our staff members, a registered nurse certainly sees it on a very regular basis.

  8. Alisha April 12, 2014 at 1:48 am #

    Great article James. I will take a lungful of vapour any day of the week over breathing the air in Sydney CBD. The people who want to ban e-cigarettes on grounds of public health spout junk science and ideology while forgetting the inconvenient truth that car exhaust fumes (and even air fresheners!) contain more harmful particles than e-liquid vapour.

    • James April 12, 2014 at 11:28 am #

      Thanks, Alisha, glad you found it useful!

  9. Vapeorama April 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Useful article with well-rounded information.
    Ecigs are not healthy in the way “an apple a day” is healthy, but the main point is that they may be quite safe -and it seems that it’s immensely safer than cigarettes.

  10. john brownlie April 16, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    I first uced e.cigs around two months ago. I found it was not quite doing
    it for me.I found myself cheating a little bit, smoking the odd cig..
    However earlier this month I tried Vaping for a comparison And
    I am totaly shocked ( in a nice way)… I ;m at day 10 and dont even
    give regular fags a thought. I do find injecting the oil a bit of a problem.
    I could suggest a couple of minor changes to yhe design and two simple addittive to the basic parts. I would be more than willing to discusse
    this with the designer.
    yours respectfully.
    John C Brownlie.

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