Bassett High School

Opinion: E-Cigarettes cloud the smoking question: Is it safe?


E-cigarettes have joined their less technological counterparts  in the ban from all enclosed workplaces in Los Angeles. The ban includes bars and restaurants, but excludes dedicated vape lounges, or use for theatrical purposes. The supporters of the ban claim it bolsters public health, but others doubt their damage.

Given the gradually decreasing national smoking rates (CDC), and rising interest in “cleaner” forms of nicotine consumption, lawmakers should use their power to nudge the smoking demographic into these safer forms of smoking.

Since its debut in 2007, the electronic cigarette has taken the world by storm. However, in recent years, it has evolved into what are now known as personal electronic vaporizers, or simply, vape pens.

Starting in early 2013, vape pens have become extremely popular with the young adult demographic. “Vines” of users performing tricks with the clouds of vapor they exhale have garnered millions of views and likes on social media sites, including Facebook, Vine, and Instagram.

Unlike e-cigs, vapes are not designed to be facsimile cigarettes. Vaporizers are made in a great variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Their appearance varies so much, some people have been tricked into inhaling its vapor.

“They told me it was a helium pen,” recounts one junior.

Despite the differences in appearance, vaporizers function exactly the same as electronic cigarettes. “E-juice”  is processed through an atomizer that transforms it into vapor for the user to inhale. E-juice comes in numerous flavors, like real cigarettes, but it is sold with varying concentrations of nicotine, some even having none at all.

Along with nicotine, water, and flavoring, e-juice contains propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG) used to produce the smoke-like vapor. Propylene glycol is also used in fog machines to produce that familiar, quickly dissipating “fog”.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these chemicals have been observed to cause irritation when inhaled, and have not been declared safe for long-term use.

“As of right now, there is no long-term safety data showing the impact of repeated inhalation of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin on lung tissue,” says Jon Ebbert, M.D., associate director at Mayo Clinic’s Nicotine Dependence Center.

The person ‘vaping’ may be exposed to addictive nicotine and may experience irritation, but what does this mean for the people around them?

The general consensus is that although it has been demonstrated that e-cigs are not completely toxin-free, e-cigarettes are much cleaner and safer than traditional cigarettes.

USC recently published a study revealing that vaping could increase the concentration of toxic heavy metals (nickel and chromium) in the surrounding air. However, the same study also found that the level of organic cancer-causing compounds in the second-hand smoke was almost zero.

“Our results demonstrate that overall electronic cigarettes seem to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, but their elevated content of toxic metals such as nickel and chromium do raise concerns,” said Constantinos Sioutas, professor at USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

A similar study from the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority announced that second-hand vapor has been found to increase particulate matter and nicotine levels indoors. However, it does not hold a candle to the amount of filth in second-hand cigarette smoke.

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoke is infused with over 7,000 carcinogens including benzene, carbon monoxide, arsenic, and formaldehyde.

Compared to cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaporizers alike are much safer – under normal use.

While E-juice is relatively safe to inhale through a vape, it is hazardous if consumed in its liquid form.

Vapes also become less safe if “dripping” is involved. Dripping is pouring e-juice directly on the atomizer to vaporize it. A New York Times piece by Matt Richtel explains that dripping heats the e-juice to dangerous levels, increasing the concentration of formaldehyde and other toxins.

Nevertheless, e-cigs under stock conditions prove themselves as a safer, cleaner alternative to smoking, and one we as society should support.

One way to push smokers to a safer alternative is through using basic economic principles.

Government subsidies and rebates are one way to accomplish this. Lowering the price so that e-cigs are cheaper than cigarettes will make them more attractive to smokers, especially if they are placed side by side in the shop.

Another way to pull smokers to the alternatives is to legalize vaping in more areas. Shoving e-smokers into areas with real smokers makes it likely for them to inhale second-hand smoke, and seeing others smoke may make it harder to quit.

Considering the benefits of e-cigs, banning them in all enclosed work spaces is a step backwards for making our society healthier. To reduce both cigarette butt and air pollution, we should allow their use in more public spaces, and perhaps support legislation to impose subsidies on e-cigarettes.