An electronic cigarette (“e-cig” or “e-cigarette”) is a battery-operated smoking apparatus, sometimes called a vaporizer, designed to be an alternative to traditional cigarettes. The construction and operation of most e-cigarettes are easy enough to understand; however, there is a fierce debate regarding e-cigarettes (as well as other vaporizers) in modern society. That debate is likely to intensify as these devices grow in popularity and profitability.
How Do E-Cigarettes Work?
In contrast to traditional rolled tobacco products – like cigarettes and cigars – e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and do not produce smoke. E-cigarettes usually carry a liquid, sometimes referred to as e-juice or e-liquid, which is a mixture of propylene glycol, glycerin, flavors and sometimes nicotine. This liquid is almost always packaged inside a detachable cartridge. This cartridge is one of the central components in an e-cigarette, along with the atomizer and the battery. Atomizers, to state it simply, are powered by the battery and generate the necessary heat to vaporize the liquid in the e-cigarette (leading to the term “vaping” to describe using an e-cigarette). This vapor will deliver the intended taste and sensation to the user. As the user inhales, a sensor will activate the atomizer and the vaporized liquid – similar in appearance to smoke – is drawn into the mouth.
An outstanding diagram can be found here.
The Rise of E-Cigarettes
While it is commonly believed that the earliest version of an electronic cigarette was designed by a man named Herbert A. Gilbert in 1963, modern e-cigarettes were invented by the Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2003. Lik introduced his products through China for several years before receiving an international patent in 2007. For the first time, U.S. and European consumers had easy access to Lik’s invention. It wasn’t before long that the tobacco industry became heavily involved in marketing and producing e-cigarettes – and they have been wildly successful. Estimates indicate that e-cigarettes alone generate $3 billion in sales worldwide.
It wasn’t only tobacco companies who were promoting e-cigarettes; many other individuals and organizations point to e-cigarettes as a tool to combat the harmful effects of tobacco. Carl Phillips, scientific director of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, says that “e-cigarettes are part of a larger phenomenon known as tobacco harm reduction.” Many others champion the lack of harsh smoke produced by e-cigarettes, thereby reducing the amount of second-hand smoke exposure.
Naturally, there are other groups opposed to products that can add to the allure of smoking. Parents, schools, addiction-recovery organizations and some scientists began a counter-movement shortly after e-cigarettes were introduced to American markets. Most e-cigarettes still deliver nicotine to the user. Some worry that the marketing of vaporizers to younger audiences could contribute to nicotine use in the future. In fact, children can find online access to vaporizers that deliver the taste of candy, soda, chocolate and other appealing flavors.
The Pros of Vaping with E-Cigarettes
- E- cigarettes produce far fewer carcinogens than traditional cigarettes. Traditional cigarettes contain between 4,000 and 7,000 harmful chemicals, many of which are produced by the tobacco and smoke. Since e-cigarettes use vapor technology, they expose users to fewer carcinogens.
- Some studies show e-cigarettes can be effective in smoking cessation. In multiple studies and surveys, e-cigarettes have been shown to potentially help smokers to reduce their habit or to quit altogether. One New Zealand study showed e-cigarettes to be as effective as nicotine patches.
- The second-hand effects are far less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Though second-hand vapor exists, the levels of smoke and second-hand effects of “vaping” are magnitudes lower than traditional smoking.
- They are more socially acceptable and do not smell. E-cigarettes provide the same experience and sensation for smokers – particularly those with nicotine habits – but can be used in far more places. They do not leave a sticky, unpleasant odor and do not stain teeth or fingernails.
- They are a cheaper alternative to smoking. While this has not been extensively researched, studies in the U.K. and the U.S. show that vaping habits can be up to 40 percent less expensive than cigarette smoking habits.
The Cons of Vaping with E-Cigarettes
- Nicotine is still an addictive drug. While not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, most do. Nicotine impacts the neurotransmitters in the brain, causing addictive cravings and behavior.
- Electronic cigarettes still emit carcinogens. E-cigarettes use liquid nicotine, a highly dangerous substance even in small doses (far more dangerous than tobacco leaves themselves). Some testing suggests that some vaporizers release toxic metals during use.
- The industry is relatively unregulated. These products are not subject to FDA approval and, according to some experts, they have not been studied thoroughly enough to understand potential risks.
- There are potentially dangerous advertisements to young people. Studies have shown that e-cigarette ads reach more than 50 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds, and they are promoting addictive habits to young people.
- The act of smoking is habit-forming. Almost all experts agree that the physical activities associated with smoking are habit-forming, without the help of tobacco or nicotine. This makes arguments about e-cigarettes helping smokers quick seem flawed, and also could promote negative habits among previous non-smokers.
Where Do E-Cigarettes Stand Today?
While the FDA has expressed interest in regulating electronic cigarettes (and other vaporizers), several legal jurisdictions have already begun cracking down on the use of these products. North Dakota, New Jersey and Utah have all restricted the use of e-cigarettes in all otherwise smoke-free venues. Ten other states have set restrictions for at least some venues. More than 150 counties across the U.S. have enacted similar restrictions.