Ask Prof: E-Cigarettes Safety and Health

Summer Term. Students finally getting interested in my teaching topics. One student asked this past week about e-cigarettes. I don’t know much about them, so it made a great research-and-post topic.



Modern e-cigs are widely believed to be developed by an inventor in China. A heating component heats up a liquid, vaporizing it, and the vapor can he inhaled by the user – so it’s also known as a “vaporizer.” I’ve seen so many of those signs pop up during the last year from places beginning to sell them.

It has been marketed to help stop smoking. I have a former student who I know swears by it.

The liquid that’s being heated is a base of either propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin or polyethylene glycol (PEG400), and nicotine is dissolved in it. The base ingredients are “generally considered as safe,” and are used as preservatives in food and medicine already. They are also components in making plastics.



The availability of these e-cigs have exploded since they are not regulated by the FDA and former California governor Schwarzenegger axed regulation in the state of these devices. The FDA site says they do regulate e-cig used for theraputic purposes (so recently manufacturers say they shouldn’t be used for smoking cessation). Different countries have different regulations – it looks like they are being very limited in the European Union.

There are some court and legal actions to try to limit the sale of these e-cigs, but meanwhile it is not regulated, so anyone can buy one, including kids.



While there has been some research on e-cigarettes, the research already performed have their proponents and activists on both sides.

The FDA did do one known study. When the FDA analyzed samples of two popular brands, they found variable amounts of nicotine and traces of toxic chemicals, including known cancer-causing substances (carcinogens). This prompted the FDA to issue a warning about potential health risks associated with electronic cigarettes.

The e-cig association blasted this research saying it is too limited. They sponsored their own research that said the amounts of carcinogens are far below amounts that would have health effects.

With a base different than tobacco cigarettes, e-cigs burn without making tar, which can be seen as carbon deposits in the human lung.

Since e-cigs are so new, there are few independent studies on the health and safety of these devices. I don’t know the effects of e-cigs on the human lung as I do tobacco cigarettes.




One comment

  1. e-cigs was featured this past week on local news. Specifically, one caught fire and they want to sue.

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