The advent of the electronic cigarette into the market in the US was viewed as the answer to nicotine addiction from the use of tobacco cigarettes. The number of nicotine addicts has been steadily rising so the principle of having to smoke without the risk of addiction was more than welcome. Of course apart from the addiction issue there is the risk of diseases including cancer from tobacco use that is greatly reduced, which you can read about in our Safety Section.
E-cigarettes work by battery power. They are basically made up of three to four components that screw onto each other. They include a battery compartment, the cartridge that houses the e-liquid, the atomizer that contains the heating elements to heat up the liquid to vaporization and finally the mouthpiece. In some brands the atomizer and the cartridge are fused together and go by the name cartomizer.
The e-liquid is made up of water, liquid nicotine, propylene glycol as a base and an assortment of flavours including coffee, caramel, strawberry and chocolate. All these ingredients are considered safe. The base propylene glycol is used in theatrical smoke and is the principal vaporizing agent. When this liquid is heated up, the vapor is produced which the smoker then inhales through the mouthpiece. They then blow off water vapor. The whole experience is very much like conventional cigarette smoking and this is part of the satisfaction derived from them.
The whole invention was the brainchild of a Chinese scientist, Hon Lik, who released the first e-cigarette into the market in 2004, one year after his discovery. Soon after other companies took up this idea and the e-cigarettes have flooded markets all over the world. You can read more about the history of electronic cigarette within our History Section.
Electronic cigarettes are generally well received in the US because compared to tobacco cigarettes, they are the ‘green’ option. In an industrialized nation as the US is, concerns over the safety of the environment are given priority. The ‘smoke’ produced from e-cigarettes is actually water vapor which has no harmful effect on the environment. This vapor actually disappears into thin air within seconds.
Additionally, the electronic cigarette does not induce second hand smoking, which is a major concern that has led to the segregation of non-smoking zones. The water vapor produced is neither first hand ‘smoke’ let alone second hand so there is no need of smoking zones for e-cigarettes. This is especially good news to environmentalists and better health crusaders in the US.
However the electronic cigarette is not without its own share of controversy, the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, does not fully endorse the use of e-cigarettes. One of the reasons for this is that after some tests of leading brands of e-cigarettes, diethylene glycol was detected as one of the components. Also other carcinogens were detected including tobacco specific nitrosamines.
The FDA also discovered that the cartridges actually contained conflicting amounts of nicotine from the ones indicated on the cartridge. This discovery meant that the smoker was actually being exposed to a greater risk of nicotine addiction than they were aware of.
There is also no specific amount of vapor that can be released by one drag on the electronic cigarettes. One drag actually releases differing amount of vapor and hence nicotine, from the next or the previous drag. This factor is another of the contentious issues the FDA raises against the use of e-cigarettes. Well, it should not be seen as if this endorsing body is fully against the use of e-cigarettes, however if the issues raised are addressed accordingly then there would not be a problem with FDA’s approval of e-cigs.
There is a standing ban on the importation of e-cigarettes into the US. However, the rate at which this product finds itself on retail shelves is alarming. The reason for the ban is basically so that the controlling body may be able to test the device and ascertain its safety for human consumption. The e-liquid comes from China and this has also raised concerns about the safety of its contents.
On the other hand, the American Association of Public Health Physicians, AAPHA, actually endorses the use of electronic cigarettes. They recommend their use citing that it is better to reduce the toxicity of tobacco and thereby improve the health of the smoker drastically. The association is actually asking for a re-classification of the e-cigarette from a drug/device combination to a tobacco product. They actually consider it safer than other nicotine replacement therapies out there. Their greatest argument is that there is the total elimination of tobacco related risks such as second hand smoke and cancer among other diseases.
Despite the controversy that surrounds the use of electronic cigarettes, their use is rising daily. Probably this is aided by the fact that most manufacturers endorse e-cigarettes. They claim that it is not used to cure nicotine addiction but rather to offer a safer way to get the nicotine fix. The small companies especially do not claim to have a medical backing for their product and are not ready to submit them to medical tests. The costs for such tests would cripple the industry and some companies would actually have to close shop if this requirement is enforced.