The use of electronic cigarettes has skyrocketed in recent years. Especially since the law that prohibited smoking in public places came into force. This law made many smokers consider the possibility of quitting their bad smoking habit. Many of them saw in the electronic cigarette the support they needed to try it.
As a result of this new trend, in 2013 hundreds of thousand of E-cigarettes shops dedicated exclusively to the sale of electronic cigarettes, their accessories and consumables were opened worldwide. But the use of this device has not been exempt from some controversy since its inception.
The meteoric rise of this device has been somewhat chaotic in terms of the controls that the authorities have exercised on it, since it has not been accompanied by scientific studies that analyze the long-term effects of the habitual use of this type of inhaler devices, nor of a control of its distribution, as it happens with other products derived from nicotine or tobacco.
What is the electronic cigarette?
The electronic cigarette is a device powered by a battery, which uses a resistance to heat a liquid solution to a vapor that is sucked by the user. This vapor may contain nicotine in different concentrations or simply flavoring additives that give it a certain flavor.
This same principle can be applied to simulate other contraptions traditionally used for tobacco consumption, such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.
History of the electronic cigarette
Although it may seem like a recently created invention, the truth is that the electronic cigarette, E-Cigarette, or E-Cig was patented more than 50 years ago.
On April 17, 1963, Herbert A. Gilbert filed a patent application for a device he described as ‘the replacement of burning tobacco and paper with hot and moist flavored air’.
The original device created by Herbert A. Gilbert did not include the component of nicotine, and consisted solely in the aspiration of vapors flavored with additives, produced by the heating of a liquid.
However, at a time when smoking was socially accepted and there were no limits on the public consumption of tobacco, Herbert A. Gilbert’s invention was not very successful commercially and soon fell into oblivion.
Years later, in 2003, the Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik decided to take up the idea of Herbert A. Gilbert and evolved the electronic cigarette after the death of his father because of lung cancer.
At that time, the social situation and the continuous pressures towards smokers led to the project having the necessary commercial support to expand its business all over the world in just over 5 years.
Electronic Cigarette: Toxic or innocuous?
In honor of the truth and being rigorous, no one can say outright or that the usual use of electronic cigarettes is harmful to the health of users (neither active nor passive), nor that its use is totally innocuous.
In the absence of long-term neutral studies that certify one or another statement, opinions of all kinds arise and for each study that is presented pointing out its drawbacks, another one appears that denies it.
Until reaching a definitive conclusion, the WHO (World Health Organization) has discouraged its use and has urged the authorities to strengthen the controls applied to this type of device, as well as restrictive measures to regulate its distribution and promotion.
The WHO based its warnings on the fact that the lack of regulation on these devices allows, for example, the doses of nicotine present in vaporizing liquids (also known as e-liquids) to be found in various amounts and concentrations, without that there are controls that certify if that concentration is real or not.
Several studies suggest that, although the use of glycerol and propylene glycol, two of the most common components in the liquids used to obtain vapor in electronic cigarettes, is widespread in the pharmaceutical industry and is considered as non-toxic, its continuous inhalation by the use of electronic cigarettes, can cause serious long-term respiratory disorders.
Other studies point to the fact that the simple aspiration to obtain the aromatized vapor of the electronic cigarette (or vaping as the action of “smoking” in the electronic cigarette’s smokers’ slang) is already harmful to the respiratory system since it causes an increase in the resistance to breathing, more difficulty in passing air, and prone to irritation of the respiratory mucosa.
Conflict of interests of the electronic cigarette
The E-cigarette has become a real hot topic of debate for politicians and legislators who have suddenly found themselves in the midst of the pressures of powerful industrial and economic sectors.
The pharmaceutical or tobacco companies have threatened their market niches with the incursion of a product that could endanger the sales of nicotine substitutes, in the case of some, or reduce the sales of packets in the case of others.
The manufacturers, distributors and merchants of electronic cigarettes and their accessories have also been up in arms to defend their commercial interests, as legitimate as those of the pharmaceutical or tobacco companies.
On the other hand, health and consumer organizations demand measures to control and regularize a product that consumers appreciate, rightly or wrongly, as an alternative to the bad habit of smoking.
Does the electronic cigarette help you quit smoking?
According to health experts, the use of electronic cigarettes has a low percentage of success in those who use it to stop smoking.
This is because, by continuing to consume nicotine, and not quitting at a psychological level the social habit of smoking in certain situations (after meals, when going out with friends, etc.), the smoker simply stagnates and only changes its shape of consuming nicotine without quitting it completely.
In this aspect, traditional nicotine substitution methods such as chewing gum or patches, have a higher percentage of success to achieve quitting smoking.
However, what has been appreciated is a decrease in the number of cigarettes per day that a smoker consumed when combined with an electronic cigarette.
There have also been cases in which, this sense of innocuousness that surrounds the electronic cigarette, returns to this habit to ex-smokers who had completely quit the tobacco or to young users who acquire the habit of vaping, and then begin to consume tobacco.
Is there any risk for the passive vaper?
There are hardly any neutral studies that reliably demonstrate the damaging effects of electronic cigarettes on their direct users. So it is quite an unknown whether it has any kind of effect on who is around the E-cig vaper.
What has been observed is that the steam produced by this type of devices leaves a trail of particles suspended in the air. Analyzing these particles have been detected substances that could become harmful or carcinogenic, especially when the e-liquid used contains a certain load of nicotine.
It is unknown if the appearance of these harmful particles in suspension can be produced by the vapor of the electronic cigarette itself or by the interaction of other external agents present in the air.
In any case, the adverse effects for passive vapers are much lower than those that can affect passive smokers.
Be that as it may, in the absence of neutral tests and studies that go beyond the biased commercial interests of supporters and detractors, it is advisable to use E-cigs with caution and not to take lightly something that, perhaps in some years, it could be classified as toxic.