While e-cigarettes are being touted as healthier substitutes for tobacco smoking, their long-term health effects are still not clearly defined.
In recent years, companies selling electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or vapes have proliferated. These companies are aggressively marketing their products as a better alternative to actual tobacco smoking, with focus on how e-cigarettes do not contain the harmful substances present in tobacco. Millions of people have fallen for this marketing strategy, and even teenagers are being targeted.
Why Do People Use E-Cigarettes?
Smoking is considered to be the leading cause of preventable death. The harmful substances in tobacco, including tar, are known to be carcinogenic. Millions of lives are lost each year due to smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). That is the reason a significant benefit from e-cigarettes is claimed. The e-cigarette is believed to be a helpful tool in making tobacco smokers quit, thereby decreasing their risk for diseases caused by smoking tobacco. E-cigarettes give smokers their nicotine fix, supposedly without the other harmful substances in tobacco.
Perception and Safety Issues:
The main reason why e-cigarettes are very popular is that a majority of the users believe them to be a cleaner, healthier, and trendier alternative. With thousands of available flavors in the market, there is a flavor for everyone.
Unfortunately, e-cigarettes or vapes are not as safe as they seem. Although manufacturers claim that the flavoring ingredients are 'food grade' and are labeled GRAS (generally recognized as safe), these claims are only applicable for additives designed for food or ingestion and not for breathing or inhalation. A substance that does not irritate the stomach may irritate and cause an inflammation and disease in the lining of the respiratory tract, including the lungs. Remember that the types of cells in the stomach (which is a highly acidic environment) are very different from the kind of cells in the lungs (which are only designed to deal with air and blood).
Contrary to the claims by manufacturers that e-cigarettes do not contain harmful substances, many types of research have proven otherwise. Substances that can be found in e-cigarettes include diacetyl or acetyl propionyl, which is associated with the irreversible and disabling lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. Other substances present in e-cigarette liquids include benzaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is the substance used to preserve cadavers and other biological specimens in laboratories and is known to be carcinogenic (In general they are dangerous and addictive).
So, How Safe Are They?
Because e-cigarettes underwent mass production only since a few years ago, the actual long term adverse effects remain to be seen. It is the potential for a long-term harm that most clinicians are concerned about. This is also the reason why regulatory bodies have not approved them for medical use.
History is the best teacher. Remember the episode involving diethylstilbestrol (DES) and clear cell vaginal adenocarcinoma? Between the 1930s to the 1980s, DES was being prescribed to pregnant mothers as a way to prevent miscarriage. In the 1960s to 1970s, their young daughters were diagnosed with clear cell adenocarcinomas. The link between DES exposure and this type of cancer was eventually discovered by physicians of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Hopefully, the story of e-cigarettes will not turn out to be similar to the story of DES. Only time can tell.
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Last reviewed at:
07 Sep 2018 - 2 min read
Query: Hi doctor, I can barely open my mouth up to three fingers space. Is it bad or normal? I have never noticed this before, only recently I happen to see this. I chew tobacco. Is that causing it? Is it serious? Read Full »
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