Published: November 20, 2015
“Electronic cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes.” It is a phrase we have heard time and time again. No one will argue with you that, yes, they are safer than cigarettes, but how much safer are they actually? They were originally meant to aid smokers on the path toward quitting traditional cigarettes, but they soon became close to a billion dollar industry that continues to grow annually. According to the Center for Disease Control and Preventio as of 2014, at least one in five smokers, and 10 percent of all high school students have tried e-cigarettes.
Back in 2010, an early study of nicotine absorption from e-cigarettes found much lower levels of nicotine in the blood compared to traditional cigarettes. Fast forward to 2014, and Rachel Grana, Ph.D., published her findings in Circulation, “American Heart Association Journal,” and showed “that more experienced users using their own product, who engaged in more puff intervals, have nicotine absorption similar to that with conventional cigarettes.”
E-cigarettes have consequences that were not even considered when they first hit the market in China back in 2003. Laura Crotty Alexander, MD, exposed methicillin-resistant MRSA (Staphylococcus aureus) to e-cigarette vapors that would be inhaled by anyone smoking them. Shockingly, the vapors from the e-cigarette actually made the S. aureus more resistant to our body’s natural protein-fragment antibiotics. This was due to an increase in the thickness of protective biofilm around the S. aureus by close to 14 percent.
“Virulence is also caused by a change in the surface charge and acid secretions released by the MRSA,” wrote Alexander. MRSA had an increased survival rate against neutrophils and macrophages as a result. Both are key components to our immune system, and their compromise could result in an increase in infections of S. aureus or other harmful bacteria.
Some of the solvents used in flavoring the e-liquid of e-cigarettes can also turn into nasty compounds called carbonyls. Carbonyls are a group of compounds that include some carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. It is not nearly close to the amount of carcinogens in a traditional cigarette, but carcinogens are still present in e-cigarette liquids as a result of them being heated up. Although these flavorings are considered safe by the FDA, Jonathan Thorenburg of RTI International noticed a red herring.
“These designations were only based on tests that involved the compounds being ingested, and no one has considered their safety when it comes to inhalation,” he stated.
In the future, doctors are going to have a tough time deciding whether e-cigarettes are a good way for a cigarette smoker to cut back or quit traditional cigarettes. Alexander stated it best in her e-cigarette findings: “My data now indicate they (e-cigarettes) might be the lesser of the two evils, but e-cigarettes are definitely not benign.” For now, the flavored e-juices of e-cigarettes are going to be filling our air for a long time to come.
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