For many smokers, quitting the vice is a difficult ordeal, but the advent of electronic cigarettes, otherwise known as “e-cig”, has provided an alternative to taking a puff which they believe is a “healthier” choice over tobacco smoking.
Or so they think.
Separate studies presented to the American Association for Cancer Research and published in science journals, reveal that the biological effects of these so-called digital nicotine sticks are strikingly similar to ordinary tobacco cigarettes which suggests that the effects of vaporized liquid in e-cigs and tobacco smoke to human cells are practically the same.
“It’s way too early now from an epidemiological point of view to say how bad they are. But the bottom line is, there are toxins and some are more than in regular cigarettes. And if you are vaping, you probably shouldn’t be using it at a high-voltage setting,” said professor of chemistry and engineering at Portland State University, Oregon James F. Pankow and one of the authors of the study printed at the New England Journal of Medicine.
“They may be safer [than tobacco], but our preliminary studies suggest that they may not be benign,” said Boston University genomics and lung cancer researcher Avrum Spira, author of another study which was published in the science journal Nature.
“Vaping” or the use of these electronic cigarettes has become popular around the world, with sales booming especially in the United States.
Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, has been found in the vaporized liquid used in e-cigs. Unlike normal cigarettes that burn dried tobacco, e-cigarettes heats the liquid nicotine solution composed of propylene glycol, glycerol, or both mixed with nicotine and flavoring, using a battery-powered device which then produces an aerosol that can be inhaled.
Vaping 3 milligrams of e-cigarette liquid at a high voltage can produce 14 milligrams of loosely affiliated or “hidden” formaldehyde. Meanwhile, a tobacco smoker would get .15 milligrams of formaldehyde per stick or 3 milligrams in a 20-pack.
“We are not saying e-cigarettes are more hazardous than cigarettes. We are only looking at one chemical,” said Pankow.
Regular cigarettes contain more than 8,000 chemicals coming from 600 additives, of which, 69 are carcinogenic.
Researcher say more studies are needed to determine the effects of e-cigs.
“These studies will determine the impact of e-cig exposure on lung carcinogenicity and provide needed scientific guidance to the [Food and Drug Administration] regarding the physiologic effects of e-cigs,” said Spira.
Regardless, scientists warn that smokers should be more wary of using such products even in the guise of “healthier” options.
“A lot of people make the assumption that e-cigarettes are safe and they are perfectly fine after using for a year. The hazards of e-cigarettes, if there are any, will be seen 10 to 15 years from now when they start to appear in chronic users,” said Pankow.
These electronic cigarettes were first invented in China in 2003, and started appearing in the United States around 2006. A five-pack of flavor cartridges costs about the same as a pack of cigarettes.
At present, no federal guidelines have been released by the FDA, thus allowing e-cigs to be marketed freely without quality control, often as a smoking cessation product. Vaping has become a source for a billion-dollar industry now.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, however, says new proposals for e-cig regulations are on its way and that the public can expect them to come “very soon.”