Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, were introduced as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes made from tobacco. They were heralded as a positive move for smokers because they burn an allegedly innocuous liquid, and not organic matter soaked in an absurd amount of chemicals. Additionally, e-cigs were able to be flavored naturally, so they didn’t taste awful, nor did they leave a smoker with foul, odorous breath for the rest of the day.
Electronic Cigarettes and Spurious Health Risks
Over time, the e-cigarette industry has grown to be worth an estimated two billion dollars a year. It’s projected to be worth five times that by 2017. As such, the opinion of electronic cigarettes in the media has seen a shift from positive to negative. What was once seen as a good alternative is more and more often being labeled as a danger, with some claiming it could be potentially as dangerous as the product it’s meant to replace.
The truth is somewhere in between, as it usually is. There certainly are risks that can be associated with using e-cigs, but that doesn’t mean there’s any reason to panic. Let’s take a look at some of the most common complaints.
E-Cigs Are Dangerous to Children and Pets
Starting with the most obvious first, a lot of media attention has been given to the dangers of a small child or family pet getting hold of liquid vapor and ingesting it. The liquid used in electronic cigarettes is incredibly potent because it is highly concentrated, so ingesting it can be life threatening, especially for a creature with low body mass.
The problem with this argument is that it’s a no-brainer. Of course concentrated nicotine is dangerous. It’s like bleach and other household cleaners; mercury and other toxic metals; tomato leaves and other poisonous plants; or any of dozens of other household products that need to be managed carefully and stored safely. Just as cigarette smokers do not leave their cigarettes and lighter where a child can get their hands on them, an e-cig consumer shouldn’t leave their paraphernalia where it is easily accessible to things that shouldn’t be accessing it.
The Liquid Has Dangerous Metals In It
E-cig vapor has been known to have trace amounts of toxic metals in it, including but not limited to chromium, nickel, lead and zinc. Some of those metals are also found in many tobacco products, while some are unique to the electronic cigarette industry. These metals are dangerous to inhale, thereby making e-cigs dangerous by default.
While it’s true that electronic cigarettes do produce those byproducts, the problem is greatly overstated for two reasons. The first is that e-cigs have never been marketed as being completely benign. Instead, they’re positioned as a safer alternative. Considering that tobacco products contain many of the same metals – along with hundreds and hundreds of other chemicals – and those metals are often found in the same or larger quantities in traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes still pass the sniff test as being safer.
Second, and even more important, is the fact that the key word in “trace amounts of toxic metals” should be “trace” and not “toxic.” While inhaling these metals in certain quantities can be harmful, they have no noticeable effect on human physiology at levels so small. It’s similar to the argument that mercury can be found in vaccines. The problem is that the amount of mercury in a vaccine is so small that it doesn’t even amount to the mercury found in a single serving of fish. And like mercury, our inner organs are designed to process these metals and pass them, meaning that as long as they don’t build up to a noticeably dangerous level, they really are innocuous.
The Electronic Cigarette Industry Isn’t Regulated Well
Because of how young the market is and how quickly it has grown, the electronic cigarette market is virtually unregulated. In the United States, the FDA hasn’t made decisive rulings either way, and they haven’t passed regulations concerning the manufacture and distribution of paraphernalia except to generalize it all under tobacco laws. This Wild West attitude towards the products by the government means that manufacturers and distributors don’t need to worry about anything beyond making as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
This is the most difficult argument to counter, because there really isn’t any denying that the FDA and other organizations haven’t done enough to ensure the public safety. Even outside the US, government regulations are lax and substandard. In the UK, for instance, a manufacturer of e-cig liquid used a butterscotch flavoring in some of their products that is safe to eat, but inhaling it can cause popcorn lung – a disease so named because it can also be caused by popcorn dust.
The interesting thing about this argument is that it is a generalization based on negativity. It implies that the potential, unknown health risks are potentially great enough to create health problems, but it uses a lack of negative research as a foundation of the argument. The FDA hasn’t regulated commercial electronic cigarettes yet because “E-cigarettes have not been fully studied.”
While the products hasn’t been fully studied, it can be inferred that the government’s lack of action towards fast, decisive regulations can be attributed to the lack of negative results being found in the research being done. If there were obvious, inherent health risks that posed substantial danger to the average consumer, action would have already been taken.
How to Make E-Cigarettes Even Safer
It’s true that the e-cig industry is still in its relative infancy and the market is mostly unregulated, but that doesn’t mean it has to be dangerous. Like with any new product, especially one that’s being put in our bodies, we as consumers can protect ourselves the best by being informed and aware.
Use established, trusted brands with experience in the industry. Trust that the manufacturers know what they’re talking about and use the equipment as it’s intended. Don’t be careless, and don’t abuse the nicotine. With just the tiniest bit of common sense, electronic cigarettes can be the safer, more pleasurable alternative to tobacco that they’re meant to be.