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Editorial: E-cigarettes, marketed as a safe alternative, should be approached with caution

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 22:01

The market for electronic cigarettes has exploded in growth over the course of the product’s very short existence, with some analysts such as Wells Fargo’s Bonnie Herzog estimating the e-cigarette market will grow from its current figure of $2 billion to $10 billion by 2017. The appeal of e-cigarettes lies in their substitution of acrid smoke inhalation with an aerosol-based nicotine delivery system. This has lead to the assumption that e-cigarettes are an overwhelmingly more safe alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. The potential of e-cigarettes has attracted the attention of major tobacco companies like Phillip Morris, which recently mended relations with its estranged parent company, Altria, to invest $682.1 million in the construction of a manufacturing facility that will produce 30 billion units upon completion by 2016. Unfortunately, e-cigarettes may not be the miracle product they appear to be, as new studies by the FDA and researchers at the University of California Riverside have found trace amounts of carcinogens and other toxic materials within e-cigarettes’ nicotine vapor.

The FDA has yet to be formally provided the materials to thoroughly investigate the safety of e-cigarettes by any manufacturers. However, preliminary studies conducted on a limited stock of e-cigarette brands found the vapor contains propylene glycol as well as carcinogenic metals like nickel and chromium at levels greater than traditional tobacco smoke. The FDA also concluded that e-cigarettes are not without emissions, meaning the vapor behaves similar to second-hand smoke, which poses a dire risk for children, who are 180 percent more likely to develop asthma, eczema and allergies when they inhale propylene glycol. Researchers at UCR corroborated the FDA’s discovery of at least 11 toxic heavy metals, which they ascribe to e-cigarette cartomizers - the device that heats the nicotine into its aerosol form - melting the other metal components that then leak into the nicotine vapor. At least nine of the 11 toxic metals were significantly more present than in traditional tobacco smoke.

The results of these studies should be considered as regulatory bodies and private companies begin to grapple with the rise of e-cigarettes. As the FDA has pointed out, e-cigarettes are not harmless to bystanders and already some states such as New Jersey have added e-cigarettes to their legislative bans on smoking in the workplace. Regardless of the potentially dangerous carcinogenic contents of e-cigarettes, the vapor itself consists of concentrated nicotine, which is an extremely addictive compound that retains its pernicious qualities even after being exhaled by the initial individual. The benefits of e-cigarettes are dubious at best, leaving the FDA’s recommendation to not smoke at all as the most optimal of choices.

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