August 24, 2013
The E-Cig (Part 1)
I have several friends who used to smoke traditional cigarettes but have recently moved to electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs). I even have some friends who are now completely smokeless because of their use of the e-cig. That’s right; they no longer smoke even the e-cig, so they were able to use it as a means to quit their nicotine addiction altogether. Yet, many are still skeptical of the e-cig and its effects, which I understand. We simply do not know enough about the e-cigarette to really know how it is affecting users and those around them.
True, they are smokeless and tobacco-less, so by nature do not have the terrible effects that regular cigarettes do (namely cancer, emphysema, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, blood clots, and many other health issues), yet they still give users nicotine and contribute to the nicotine addiction. So, what exactly are the benefits and disadvantages of the e-cig?
Before jumping into the benefits and disadvantages, I thought it would be helpful to understand the e-cig itself, as well as the effects of nicotine. At the onset, electronic cigarettes looked sort of like regular cigarettes only a bit longer. Some looked like cigars or pipes, but today, in 2013, they come in many different shapes and sizes. The ones I see most often have a clear tube that houses the e-liquid and vaporizer and whatnot that is attached to a black battery on one end and mouthpiece on the other. WebMD explains how they work:
- The user inhales through a mouthpiece.
- Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered heater.
- The heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge (it also activates a light at the “lit” end of the e-cigarette). Users can opt for a cartridge without nicotine.
- The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge. PEG is the stuff of which theatrical smoke is made.
- The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke.
- When the user exhales, there’s a cloud of PEG vapor that looks like smoke. The vapor quickly dissipates.
- E-cigarettes contain no tobacco products; even the nicotine is synthetic.
The vapor that looks like smoke is really just steam. Unlike with smoking a traditional cigarette, the e-cigarette typically has only propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), polyethylene glycol 400 (PEG400), flavors, and a variable concentration of nicotine in its e-liquid or e-juice. Cigarettes, on the other hand, have thousands of ingredients, most of which are poisonous, dangerous, or simply gross.
Now that we understand the e-cigarette itself, let’s look at the effects of nicotine. Since the majority of the e-liquid is nicotine, it is important to, at least, have a basic understanding of the side effects possible. The Mayo Clinic breaks down the dangerous side effects into more common, less common, rare, and symptoms of overdose. Here are each of these:
- Injury or irritation to mouth, teeth, or dental work—with chewing gum only
- High blood pressure
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Hives, itching, rash, redness, or swelling of skin
Symptoms of overdose (may occur in the following order)
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Increased watering of mouth (severe)
- Abdominal or stomach pain (severe)
- Diarrhea (severe)
- Pale skin
- Cold sweat
- Headache (severe)
- Dizziness (severe)
- Disturbed hearing and vision
- Weakness (severe)
- Extreme exhaustion
- Low blood pressure
- Difficulty in breathing (severe)
- Fast, weak, or irregular heartbeat
- Convulsions (seizures)
Now, it is important to note that the above are side effects that need medical attention. However, most of the side effects of nicotine do not need medical attention. These include:
- Belching—with chewing gum and lozenges
- Headache (mild)
- Increased appetite
- Increased watering of mouth (mild)—with chewing gum only
- Jaw muscle ache—with chewing gum only
- Redness, itching, and/or burning at site of application of patch—usually stops within 24 hours
- Sore mouth or throat—with chewing gum only
Less common or rare
- Abdominal or stomach pain (mild)
- Change in sense of taste
- Coughing (increased)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness (mild)
- Dryness of mouth
- Hiccups—with chewing gum and lozenges
- Hoarseness—with chewing gum only
- Indigestion (mild)
- Loss of appetite
- Menstrual pain
- Muscle or joint pain
- Nausea or vomiting (mild)
- Passing of gas
- Sweating (increased)
- Trouble in sleeping or unusual dreams
- Unusual irritability or nervousness
Of course, any side effects should be monitored, but in comparison to the effects of the other ingredients in regular cigarettes, nicotine seems to be less dangerous at the very least. Still, not enough research has been done on the e-juice and the e-cig to know what might come of it.
In an upcoming blog, I will tackle the benefits and disadvantages of the e-cig, but it was important to lay this foundation before moving to that.
Image Credit: Piotr Marcinski / Shutterstock