Articles Good Health

Planet of the Vapes

Is Danger Lurking Behind the “Benefits” of eCigarettes?

by Karyn Brodsky

You can’t escape the vape. Those slender, flute-like tubes are everywhere—not only being used to inhale vapors by adults, but also by teens and yes, tweens, who are attracted to the various candy and fruit-flavored “juices” mixed with nicotine. Some electronic cigarette companies tout them as a less adverse alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes, but are they actually just as toxic?

John Lieberman, CEO of Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, based in Malibu, California, thinks they are. He cites a study of the long-term outcomes of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which validates that there can be a long-term addiction to tobacco.

“Nicotine is addictive, and the companies never said e-cigs were safe: just less dangerous than a cigarette that’s actually lit. It’s just another vehicle to introduce a chemical,” says Lieberman.  He adds that the ease of use is the issue. “Adolescents can be tempted to put anything inside an e-cig: cocaine, chemicals, drugs, etc.”

While many view electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigs,” as this decade’s “cure de jour” for smoking cessation, there are serious health risks. “Electronic cigarettes, marketed as safer than regular cigarettes, deliver a cocktail of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens, into the lungs, new studies show. Using e-cigarettes may even make bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics, according to one study. E-cigarettes also deliver high levels of nanoparticles, the researchers found, which can trigger inflammation and have been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

“Most contain at least traces of the solvents in which nicotine and flavorings had been dissolved. Those solvents are known as lung irritants. And the solvents can transform into something even more worrisome: carbonyls. This group includes known cancer-causing chemicals, such as formaldehyde, and suspected carcinogens, such as acetaldehyde. Because early e-cigarettes didn’t deliver the same powerful hit of nicotine that burning tobacco does, engineers developed second-generation technology that allows users to increase an e-cigarette’s voltage, and thus temperature, to atomize more nicotine per puff. But the higher temperatures also can trigger a thermal breakdown of the solvents, producing the carbonyls.”*

For example, a relatively new product on the market called JUUL (pronounced “jewel”) is a vehicle by which to inhale nicotine vapors. JUUL ingredients include, among others: nicotine, glycerol and propylene glycol (commonly used in vaporization liquids and also used in a number of consumer products like toothpaste) and benzoic acid (a naturally occurring acid found in the tobacco plant). The nicotine, flavors and other ingredients are gently heated (as opposed to being burned by a flame) by a vaporizer to release active ingredients. The result is no combustion and no smoke, but does that make e-cigs less dangerous?**

The JUUL website itself even notes that a danger exists. “No tobacco product should be considered safe…inhalation of e-vapor may aggravate existing respiratory conditions.” They also admit that “technically, JUUL is not meant to help a person stop smoking. It simply is a way to inhale nicotine without creating any smoke for the user or secondhand smoke for others. JUUL is not intended to be a nicotine cessation device.”***

In addition to the creation of carcinogenic substances, e-cigs have been found to contribute to Popcorn Lung. This condition was discovered, and the name was coined in 2004, after The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported several cases of bronchiolitis obliterans in 2000 in workers in a Missouri-based microwave popcorn plant. Bronchiolitis obliterans is a serious condition that causes tiny air sacs in the lungs to become scarred. The National Institute of Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigated and determined that inhalation of diacetyl, the agent used to give the popcorn a buttery flavor, likely contributed to the development of the illness. Symptoms of the disease are cough and shortness of breath, similar to that seen in people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Currently, there are no therapies to reverse this process.

A further study, published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, revealed that dangerous chemical flavorings associated with Popcorn Lung are present in many types of flavored e-cigs, especially candy and fruit flavors that are popular with young smokers. “Of the 51 flavored e-cigarettes tested, flavoring chemicals were found in 47 and diacetyl specifically in 39 samples. This suggests a potentially dangerous level of exposure via e-cigarettes to chemicals that can cause severe lung damage.”†

It is said that knowledge is power. The knowledge that today’s e-cigarettes can cause cancer or other serious health maladies is a good start for parents to begin a conversation with their teens, tweens and college-aged kids. It also provides the ammunition to lobby lawmakers to impose stronger regulations on e-cigs, so we can protect our children.


John Lieberman, CEO of Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, based in Malibu, California





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