E-cigarettes: Smoke-free is not danger-free

Before “lighting up” an electronic cigarette consider these facts.

While e-cigarettes don’t produce smoke, users do inhale a nicotine-laced vapor. According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests, the same e-cigarette brand can have varying levels of nicotine and other carcinogens.

E-cigarettes are electronic nicotine delivery systems. Made out of metal and plastic, most e-cigs resemble real cigarettes; they even may have an LED light on the end that glows red when a person takes a puff. Typically, the cylinder of an e-cigarette contains a battery-powered heating element that heats up a cartridge containing nicotine, water, flavorings and other chemicals, some of which may be harmful.

How do e-cigarettes work? When the user takes a drag or a puff on an e-cig, the heating element is activated and heats up the cartridge. The chemicals contained in the cartridge form the vapor, which is inhaled by the user. This process is called “vaping”.

Many people wonder if e-cigarettes are safe.

While inhaling a vapor may be safer than inhaling smoke, the vapor of an e-cig may not be safe. The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation, Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis (DPA) tested two leading brands of e-cigarettes from the estimated 250 brands available in America and have found:

  • Diethylene glycol a toxic, ingredient found in antifreeze
  • Nitrosamines which are tobacco-specific carcinogens
  • Anabasine, myosmine, and β-nicotyrine which are tobacco-specific impurities
  • Nicotine in products labeled NO nicotine
  • A variance of 16.4 mcg of nicotine/100 mL per puff in cartridges that were labeled as the same product
  • Cartridges that delivered twice as much nicotine than an FDA approved smoking cessation aid

These are just a few of the controversial issues surrounding e-cigarettes, the long-term effects of use remain to be seen. It may take years to identify the real health effects of vaping and second-hand vapor.

There are other dangers associated with e-cigarettes.

As a result of the perception that e-cigarettes are safe, they may act as a gateway to traditional smoking. A study by The University of California – San Francisco published in JAMA Pediatrics concluded, “Use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among US adolescents.” Recently, the FDA has proposed age restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes, but until rules are set, the number of teens using e-cigarettes is expected to rise.

E-cigarettes also pose a threat to younger children. The liquid nicotine found in the cartridges of e-cigarettes is a flavored, poisonous neurotoxin, which in small quantities can be deadly to both adults in children.

With many people using e-cigarettes choosing to save money by refilling their own cartridges or stocking a variety of flavored cartridges, the incidence of liquid-nicotine poisoning has increased significantly. In 2013, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported a 219 percent increase in liquid nicotine exposure.

Liquid nicotine is toxic when it is ingested or is absorbed through the skin. Liquid nicotine is extremely hazardous to children younger than six years of age.

If you have liquid nicotine in your home, the American Association of Poison Control Centers recommends the following steps to keep your family safe.

  • Protect your skin if you handle liquid nicotine.
  • Keep e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine out of the reach of children -- preferably locked up.
  • Dispose of the cartridges in a safe manner, following the instructions on the label.
  • Call your poison control center at 800.222.1222 immediately if you or someone else has been exposed to liquid nicotine.

The dangers of e-cigarettes use are real.

If you smoke, make the healthy choice to quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. E-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative.

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