Given the minimal oversight of these recently developed products, most consumers don't even know what's in their e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration even admits that the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes hasn't been fully studied, and consumers have no way of knowing if e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use.
Here are some of the e-cigarette threats in the news:
Researchers at the University of the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California–San Diego recently discovered that e-cigarettes appear to fuel potentially life-threatening drug-resistant pathogens. In a lab study, scientists tested e-cigarette vapor on live methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and human cells. The vapor increased the virulence of the drug-resistant bacteria while decreasing human cells' ability to kill off this hard-to-treat supergerm. MRSA most commonly colonizes in the upper throat behind the nose, a spot that 's constantly exposed to cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapors. Regular cigarette smoke creates an even more MRSA-friendly environment, though, so your best bet is to avoid both forms of smoking. Researchers presented the study at the recent 2014 American Thoracic Society International Conference.
Skyrocketing Poisoning Rates
Calls to poison control centers concerning exposure to e-cigarette devices or to the nicotine liquid used in the devices rose dramatically from 1 per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. During that same time period, calls involving conventional cigarettes did not increase. More than half of the calls about e-cigarettes involved children ages 0 to 5. "The use of these products is skyrocketing, and these poisonings will continue," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a statement. "E-cigarette liquids, as currently sold, are a threat to small children because they are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children."
Asthma- and Cancer-Inducing Aerosols
According to a February 2014 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, e-cigarette aerosol contains high concentrations of ultrafine particles in even higher levels than what's found in cigarette smoke!
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Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights points to fact that at least 10 chemicals identified in e-cigarette aerosol are on California's Proposition 65 list of carcinogens and reproductive toxins. These include acetaldehyde, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, cadmium, nickel, and toluene, among others.
Exposure to fine and ultrafine particles could trigger a heart attack or make asthma worse. Propylene glycol emitted from e-cigarettes could also spark eye, throat, and airway irritation. There are secondhand threats, too. Long-term exposure could trigger asthma in children. Even worse, some studies show that heating propylene glycol changes its chemical composition, producing small amounts of propylene oxide, a known carcinogen, an additional risk that Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights points out.
A new study in the June issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology warns of potential e-cigarette risks, including dual-purpose smoking, where people smoke e-cigarettes in public and regular cigarettes at home, exposing children to both threats.
"Dual use of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes carries the risk of secondhand smoke exposure, causing worsening respiratory effects on children and asthma sufferers. It also promotes ongoing nicotine dependence," says Chitra Dinakar, MD, study coauthor, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology fellow and professor of pediatrics at Children's Mercy Hospitals.
Inhaling irritants like smoke and vapors has an impact on the lungs, whether it is mild or severe. And irritants can cause asthma attacks in some individuals. These attacks are responsible for some of the 4,000 asthma-related deaths per year. On the positive side of things, the University of Wisconsin is in the midst of a study investigating mindfulness as a potent tool to quit smoking. The early results are promising, with quit rates quite high, especially in participants who started the study with an interest in learning meditation. James Davis, MD, a University of Wisconsin physician, says mindfulness is a cognitive skill that may be used to help manage craving, withdrawal symptoms, stress, and negative emotions.
“Many participants who have started meditation have reported profound experiences,” Davis said. “We’ve seen people not only quit smoking, but begin daily exercise, change their diet, be more generous to others, increase their curiosity about life and improve relationships.”
Want more ways to clear your air? Eliminate these 11 hidden sources of indoor air pollution.