January 20, 2017

Are E-cigarettes Safe?

Heath and Safety Issues

by Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

Picture the following scene: A young man with a scraggly beard and dreadlocks comes out of a smoke shop on Main Street.  He’s holding a small electronic device to his mouth, sucks on it and a light goes on at the tip. He then exhales from his nose and mouth what looks like smoke, which swirls  around his head. This man is “vaping,” or smoking an electronic cigarette.

Have you ever wondered what’s in that smoke?  Perhaps someone nearby was using such a device and the smoke blew in your face. Did you wonder how it might affect you?

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, have gone from an oddity used by hippies to mainstream.  We now see them everywhere. Even Walmart has a variety of them on the shelf!  Besides the requirement that purchasers and users be over 18, electronic cigarettes aren’t regulated by the FDA. Nor is there any state regulation of e-cigs.

Are e-cigs safeElectronic cigarettes contain nicotine suspended in a fluid that includes water, propylene glycol, and flavors.  A battery-operated heater vaporizes the liquid in an e-cig, allowing the smoker to breathe it into the lungs.

The stated purpose of these electronic devices is an alternative to smoking cigarettes.  E-cigs contain varying levels of nicotine, mostly around one-tenth to one-half of the level of nicotine found in tobacco cigarettes.  At first, they were only found in smoke shops, produced by local manufacturers. But now, e-cigs have become big business, and tobacco companies are proud to produce them.

E-Cig Statistics[1]

E-Cigarette Statistics Data
Percent of people using e-cigarettes that quit smoking within 6 months 29 %
Total number of smokers in the U.S. 45,000,000
Total number of e-cigarette smokers 2,750,000
Percent of U.S. adults who have tried e-cigarettes 6.7 %
Percent of high school students who have tried e-cigarettes 12 %
Percent of U.S. adults who are using e-cigarettes 3.7 %
Sales in 2015 $2,875,000,000

E Cig StatisiticMany websites, such as those put out by the California Department of Public Health,[2] Consumer Reports,[3] and even the American Lung Association[4] contain little more than propaganda demonizing the devices in order to garner public support for FDA regulation. Rather than science, they use fearmongering. Most news agencies are also reporting on fears instead of facts. So, let’s look at the facts in more detail.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps statistics on health-related issues with the devices, reporting about 70 complaints on e-cigarettes between the end of 2006 and November 2013, including:

  • 32 respiratory problems, some related to second-hand smoke exposure
  • 12 hospitalizations involving blood-pressure abnormalities, disorientation, pneumonia, seizures, and other health problems, and two reported deaths
  • 10 heart problems, including heart-rhythm abnormalities and congestive heart failure
  • 10 allergic reactions, including some with rashes or related to nicotine toxicity
  • 4 exploding e-cigarettes, three reportedly involving burns[5]

These connections may not be causative and are better statistics than any drug on the market, including over-the-counter drugs.  Even so, with only about ten “minor” complaints per year out of over 2.5 million users, the FDA has not seen fit to regulate the industry… until now.

There is a new ruling within the FDA that they can regulate these products. Beginning on August 8th, 2016 the industry will have two years to show proof that they are safe and better than tobacco products.

Announcing the new regulations for e-cigarettes recently, the Food and Drug Administration claimed, “FDA is taking this action to reduce the death and disease from tobacco products.”  Though they often contain some nicotine, e-cigs aren’t really a tobacco product.  But are e-cigs safe?

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