Smoke and Mirrors: Why You Should Avoid E-Cigarettes

January 11, 2017

With the new year upon us, many of us are gearing up to achieve—or at least attempt—our New Year’s resolutions. From weight loss to exercise to cutting back on guilty pleasures like sweets and alcohol, it can be tough to crack a bad habit—especially if it’s addictive.
As a graduate student, I’ve noticed that one addictive habit in particular has become a staple for stressed-out students: e-cigarettes. While many young people view vaping as a harmless alternative to traditional cigarettes, their assumptions may not be as true as they think.

People take up vaping for a number of different reasons. Sometimes it’s to wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes, while other times it’s used as a way to fit in with the crowd. Those struggling with excess weight may see the nicotine in e-cigarettes as a quick-fix appetite suppressant, while others seek it out in an attempt to relieve stress. Regardless of the reason for vaping, there may be more to it than big tobacco companies are letting on. Read on to discover four reasons why you should stay away from e-cigs.

1. They aren’t FDA approved—yet.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, a rule regulating all tobacco products—including vaporizers—was signed into effect in August of 2016. While that may sound great, there’s a catch: the dates within which companies must comply with FDA requirements haven’t kicked in yet. In fact, companies will not be required to submit important consumer information, such as ingredients listings, until February 2018, which leads to the next great reason to stay away from e-cigs:

2. Undisclosed Ingredients

So, if you’re using an e-cig, how do you know what you’re inhaling? The short answer is: You don’t, which leads to misinformation about the risks of vaping. The average e-cigarette contains a liquid nicotine cartridge, which generally includes nicotine, propylene glycol, water, and glycerin. Nicotine aside, these ingredients may sound relatively harmless, but it’s in the lack of quality control where the true risk lies.
According to a 2014 FDA analysis of e-cigarettes, a sampling of e-cigarette brands were tested and found to contain “detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed.” In addition, due to “inconsistent or non-existent” quality control, e-cigarettes that were labeled as nicotine-free actually did contain small quantities of the drug.
This means that not only are e-cigarettes capable of harming the people who use them, they are also capable of producing toxic second-hand smoke.

3. The second-hand smoke, or aerosol, produced by e-cigarettes can be harmful. So you still can’t use them in smoke-free spaces.

A recent article posted by the American Lung Association addressed the issues of e-cigarette users attempting to smoke indoors, stating that “the U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless, and can contain harmful and potentially harmful chemicals.” This means that although some people see the aerosol byproduct as little more than water vapor, it is actually a toxin that can be harmful to bystanders, including e-cigarette users’ friends and family members.

4. Whether inhaled through vapor or smoke, nicotine remains a dangerous and addictive substance.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nicotine has a negative impact on the brain, specifically “the brain circuitry that regulates feelings of pleasure.” It can be extremely difficult to quit once a user is addicted, and quitting often comes with a myriad of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including “irritability, craving, depression, anxiety, cognitive and attention deficits, sleep disturbances, and increased appetite”—all of which are wonderful reasons to stay away from the drug in the first place.
In addition, because e-cigarettes are poorly regulated, their nicotine levels can be extreme. Electronic Cigarette Consumer Reviews even notes that the e-cigs from companies that produce so-called higher quality products can contain levels of nicotine that would be equal to those of a whole pack of cigarettes and caution that “if you don’t know the nicotine level of an ecig, don’t buy it. Some retail ecigarettes have very high nicotine levels.”
So, with a haze of misinformation clouding the e-cig industry, the next time you’re feeling stressed, or even just curious, don’t get sucked into vaping. Do your research, and ignore the big tobacco company advertisements—it’s all just smoke and mirrors.

Annelise Driscoll

Annelise is a graduate of Hamilton College who enjoys writing, reading and roller derby. When she isn't noveling, she can be found doing yoga and watching British baking shows.
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