Debunking the E-Cig: Are They Really Better Than the Traditional Cigarette?

By Taylor Ferreira

The cigarette industry has hit it off again; with ads displaying attractive people blowing smoke out of their attractive mouths, from their attractive hard-drive resembling Juuls. But at least it isn’t a real cigarette, right? I mean it’s just water vapor. And hey, it tastes good.

Let’s break this down, e-cigarettes were created to help traditional smokers quit by enabling them to control how much nicotine they are intaking, ideally getting rid of it altogether. However, many studies have shown that those who take up vaping are more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking. Because of this, the tobacco company is gaining speed once again, and creating customers for life through their appeal to teenagers.

The biggest misconception about vaping and e-cigs is that they are safer than the traditional cigarette. This belief stems directly from the e-cig ads claiming they contain less cancer-causing chemicals, otherwise known as carcinogens. This is true in a sense. Through combustion, cigarettes create the smoke that is then inhaled into the lungs; this produces carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. Along with this, cigarettes contain 93 other carcinogens and addictive chemicals that can be found in the FDA’s list of the harmful compounds found in cigarettes.

The liquid in e-cigs may not contain all of those, but I assure you, they have their own set problems. Instead of using combustion by lighting, e-cigs heat a nicotine-containing liquid at high voltages in order to create the water vapor that is then inhaled. Tests on this process were described in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that when heated, the liquid produces large amounts of formaldehyde that makes it into the lungs. Have you ever dissected an animal in biology? You know that liquid they are all soaked in that makes the whole room smell like a sewage pipe? That’s formaldehyde.

When formaldehyde is inhaled, it is known to be a cause for chronic asthma at small doses, then cancer, and in a study by the ATSDR Public Health Registry, high concentrations have shown that “inhalation of formaldehyde can result in irritation and damage to the lining of the nose and throat,” and even “impaired learning and changes in behavior” in laboratory animals.

Along with this, e-cigs have shown to produce more inflammation in the lungs due to “free-radicals” than the traditional cigarette. In an NBC news interview with Dr. Natalie Hasar, she explains how the flavors in the vapor are one of the biggest contributors to lung damage and cancer. When heated, the liquid creates “diacetyl, the chemical blamed for causing ‘popcorn lung” (bronchiolitis obliterans, or a condition that damages the smallest airways in the lungs causing difficulty breathing and exhaustion) and stimulates the production of free-radicals. Free-radicals are highly-reactive, naturally occurring chemicals in which are necessary for certain bodily processes, but at high concentrations are known to damage proteins, cell membranes, and DNA – the very make-up of your body’s cells.

So why don’t more people know about the side effects of these harmful so-called “smoking alternatives?” First of all, they were only invented in 2003 and weren’t sold in the United States until 2008. They have only been around for ten years. There hasn’t been enough time to witness the long-term effects, and not enough time for the FDA to establish proper restrictions on these devices. We are literally the first generation to experience these drugs during our adolescence. Who knows what they can do?

How are they trying to restrict these devices from getting to the youth? The scary thing is that they aren’t. The FDA currently doesn’t have the authority to regulate the sale and marketing practices of e-cig companies. It is down to each state; they have to enforce laws to stop retailers from selling these devices to children, put limits on the advertising of these products, apply taxes, and promote abstinence to tobacco products.

The production of e-cigarettes and the popularization of vaping has caused a serious rift in the  years of progress in preventing teens from taking up smoking. The most frightening part is that we have no idea of the consequences. They can almost be paralleled with party drugs in the sense that many health professionals have no idea what they contain, and each liquid has its own unique set of chemicals. Like Mr. Weasley said, “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.” We have to think of drugs in this way; do not consume it if you can’t see what it is going to do to your body. We have to remember that a moment’s worth of feeling better, isn’t worth a lifetime of disease.


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