E-Cigarettes: Health Risks and Benefits

e-cigTouted as safer than cigarettes, e-cigarettes are actually devices that produce nicotine-laced steam or vapor, and have become very popular. Whether they are actually safer is not really established, and not likely to be.

There is no greater nuisance to a crowd of smokers than an intruder who has reformed. I (Davis, not Nichols) am such a member of this great nuisance club, having smoked from age 14 to age 34. This activity permanently damaged my lungs, perhaps costing me 10%-15% of their capacity. However, this is peanuts compared to the 5 million annually that die from smoking. But we needn’t go on with this. We all know smoking is bad for us. We always did. When we were kids, before the anti-smoking push back even started, people would bum a “coffin nail” from a fellow smoker.

Why E-cigarettes?

This is a Chinese invention, interestingly, and has caught on big for three reasons

  1. It is thought to be safer.
  2. It is thought to aid in quitting.
  3. It is less annoying and dangerous to people around the smoker.

Second Hand Smoke

I can testify that #3 is truly the case, having spent a lengthy dinner in close quarters with an “e-smoker.” I couldn’t detect a whiff, and us ex-smokers are very sensitive and fussy about second-hand smoke. If not entirely absent, it is much, much lower. But how about #2 and #1.

Quitting – Recidivism is Rampant

Quitting is tough because nicotine is very addictive. Any smoker that has tries to quit quickly finds this out (and most have attempted this feat many times). The nicotine withdrawal makes the ex-smoker feel lousy and grumpy. I was such a terror when I quit that seven other people quit in self-defense. The withdrawal can last months and is said to be more difficult than cocaine or heroin withdrawal, though this may be doubtful.

There have been studies comparing e-cigarettes to nicotine patches to “cold turkey,” and it seems that the e-cigarettes smokers did slightly better. However, 80%-90% of the time, all three methods fail, so e-cigarettes are certainly no solution here. Ultimately it comes down to willpower, like much else in life.


So that brings us around to safety, and here is where it gets interesting. It seems that what goes on inside an e-cigarette is almost entirely unregulated, chemically and mechanically. When an e-smoker inhales, a battery-powered gadget produces a steam vapor, which mixes with some chemicals. The chemicals contain the nicotine, along with various flavors. Exactly which, and how much, varies widely, and this is a serious problem.

So the safety cannot really be assessed without knowing which particular e-cocktail is being inhaled, or “vaped.” A common denominator, though, is nicotine.

Nicotine in and of itself probably does not cause cancer, though this is controversial. Nicotine is certainly the substance that keeps the smokers smoking, though, so indirectly it is health enemy #1. The other items in e-cigarettes are quite different from those found in real tobacco.

One item found in most e-cigarettes is propylene glycol, a liquid from which the steam is made. It’s first cousin, ethylene glycol, is also known as anti-freeze. Is inhaling propylene glycol a good idea? Not likely. Dow Chemical, who manufactures propylene glycol for industrial use warns: “inhalation exposure to mists should be avoided.”e-cig-flavors

But what about the other stuff. Here it gets complicated. E-cigarettes come in a bewildering array of flavors (see chart), and each flavor is a different mix of chemicals. Researches have examined the effect of the flavors on lung tissue, and the results run from highly toxic to relatively harmless. They didn’t say which were which.

So, we offer some conclusions:

As far as second hand smoke and hazards to those in close contact with the smoker, e-cigarettes would seem to have great benefit.

smoke-drAs to making it easier to quit. No real benefit. Successful quitting is 90% will power and 10% patches or nicotine gum or whatever.

Safety could be anywhere. It could even be worse than the real thing. This makes it very hard to know which concoction is better. Here is an industry in desperate need of regulation. Till then, it’s health roulette.

So e-cigs don’t seem to have a lot going for them, but if I had to live with any smokers who refused to reform, I would definitely know what to get them for their birthday.

Here’s a present for the reader: two hilarious smoking songs:

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Jerome Kern, a gorgeous ballad. Here with a twist.

Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette, by Tex Williams. I sing this one to groups of smokers when I can’t find my squirt gun.

  1 comment for “E-Cigarettes: Health Risks and Benefits

  1. Kevin Bush
    April 7, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Electronic cigarettes are not totally safe still are less harmful when compared to traditional cigarettes. And the amount of nicotine in premium e liquid flavors is also optional which is not possible with traditional cigarettes.

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