Last year, “vaping” was one of the new words that made the Oxford English Dictionary just a tiny bit fatter. No surprise, really. The popularity of e-cigarettes has only gone up, offering the opportunity to inhale vapor rather than the smoke of traditional cigarettes.
They also offer a wonderland of not-tobacco flavors – citrus, berry, fruit, dessert, you name it.
This is concerning since such sweet flavors tend to appeal most to a young demographic – young people still sure they’re invincible, immune to the risks and damage of addiction.
Research continues to illuminate just how damaging the habit can be.
For instance, there was the recent study in Oral Oncology, in which experiments were done on both normal epithelial cells and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells lines. Cells were exposed to both nicotine-containing and nicotine-free vapor extract for periods ranging from 48 hours to 8 weeks. Regardless of nicotine content, all cells showed
- Significantly reduced viability.
- More programmed cell death (apoptosis).
- More premature death of cells (necrosis).
- DNA strand breakage.
- Decreased genic survival in both normal and squamous cell tissue.
The only conclusion you can come to?
Electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear to the public.
And over the long term? Further research is needed to see if the DNA damage will lead to mutations that may result in cancer.
Here’s Where the Trouble Starts
The e-cig has three components: a battery, an atomizer, and a container for the “e-liquid.” The battery creates the power that lets the atomizer heat and vaporize the liquid. That liquid, in turn, typically contains four ingredients:
- Propylene glycol
- Vegetable glycerin
- Artificial and natural flavoring
The exact mixture and amount of each varies from product to product. Manufacturers claim they’re all food grade approved. Of course, getting them individually from food sources is one thing. Lighting a mixture of these chemicals and inhaling the vapor is another.
As a food additive, propylene glycol is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA – even as the very same substance is used for things like antifreeze and de-icing planes. When heated, it vaporizes. In e-cigs, it’s used as a carrier for nicotine and flavorings. Allergies have been reported, most commonly noted as a tingling in the throat. It can cause dry mouth and throat.
It also breaks down into formaldehyde.
Less problematic is the vegetable glycerin, which is produced industrially from vegetable oils and dissolves easily in water. Some have complained that it causes phlegmy build up in the mouth or throat. Allergies have also been reported.
Nicotine, of course, is a highly addictive drug and a leading cause of preventable death. Covering all the “feel good” bases, it acts like a stimulant and a sedative. Regular exposure to nicotine results in tolerance, which means you’ll need higher doses to produce the same effect.
Diacetyl is just one of the chemicals that can be lurking in artificial and natural flavorings. It’s been associated with serious lung problems, like those you may have heard associated with workers in microwave popcorn plants. One study found it present in 39 of 51 flavors tested.
“We specifically looked at the packaging and at the website to see if any of the sellers were providing warnings,” [lead author Joseph] Allen said. “We asked two companies specifically, and they said ‘No,’ they did not have diacetyl in it. But we tested them and, in fact, they did.”
Two other chemicals of concern, acetoin and 2,3-pentanedoine, were detected in some of the flavors, as well. Allen and his colleagues found that no flavor packaging came with warnings about potential dangers from diacetyl or other flavorings that OSHA has said may pose a hazard.
But What About All Those Health Benefits They Talk About?
Currently, e-cigs are unregulated. Promoters of these products would still like you to think of vaping is the “healthier alternative” to regular cigarettes.
But as we’ve noted before – and as research like the studies above continue to show – that’s just a (pardon the pun) pipe dream.
Image by Vape Direct