During my public health rotation, I researched the use of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigs”). I soon became aware of the associated dangers. According to the CDC, the extent of e-cig use among teenagers doubled to 10% in 2012. Using effective marketing tactics to lure children and teenagers, this industry reached over a $2 billion market within a few years. Because young people are not aware of the toxic components of e-cigs, the result has been a 307% increase in nicotine poisonings, 51.1% of which involved young children under the age of five.
E-cigs, also known as vaporizers (“vapes”), were first introduced into the United States in 2007. Although e-cigs can contain less nicotine than conventional cigarettes, they are just as addictive. Inhaled nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine by binding to the nicotine receptor, which contributes to the reinforcing and addicting property. Young people who use both e-cigs and conventional cigarettes smoke more cigarettes and are less likely to quit smoking than those who use cigarettes alone.
Toxins into vapor
E-cigs are battery-operated devices that work by converting liquid nicotine into vapor that smokers inhale. They contain toxic components such as diethylene glycol (found in antifreeze), formaldehyde, and propylene glycol, a main cause of respiratory irritation; prolonged and/or repeated exposure may affect the central nervous system and consequent behavior. When heated and vaporized, propylene glycol can form propylene oxide, a carcinogen. Secondhand smoke, inhaled not only in homes but in public places such as restaurants and parks, increases the risk to others of nicotine-related respiratory disease.
E-cigs are manufactured primarily in China and at present are not regulated by FDA. This is a significant cause for concern. Since 2013, the manufacture of e-cigs has increased, with different varieties containing varying amounts of nicotine and diluents produced under circumstances of very poor quality control.
Unfortunately, most people believe that e-cigs are merely products that simply release harmless water vapor.