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
“If there is anyone who believes cigarettes are no more hazardous than e-cigarettes I’d recommend a remedial course in basic sciences.”
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
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:
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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
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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.
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.
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.
5. Lung Studies
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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
8. Short Term Health Effects
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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.
Areas where you need to be cautious
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.
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 Nothing
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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