How harmful are E-Cigarettes - Risks, Legalities, ingredients and case studies

Union Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addresses during a Cabinet Briefing, in New Delhi on Sep 18, 2019. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

During recent years, the use of e-cigarettes has swelled exponentially. Today e-cigarettes have become the most sought after tobacco products by the youth. In terms of their volume sales, e-cigarettes have surpassed the cigars and conventional cigarettes. Given this background, now it is more appropriate and necessary than ever to understand how harmful e-cigarettes are.

The government reports

Recently, two government reports have cast more light on the effects of e-cigarettes on human health. Especially a lung specialist at Hendry Ford Hospital Geneva Tatem, M.D., has given more information on e-cigarettes and how they impact human health in order to help the patients make a better choice with regard to their smoking habits and health. Dr Tatem remarked, “We need to balance the current science and evidence we have with the advocacy, to figure out the right way we should proceed in counselling our patients.”


E-cigarettes could be lesser harmful

In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) published the findings of what was called a highly comprehensive analysis of the present studies in the field of e-cigarettes. The report said, “E-cigarettes are not without health risks, they are likely to be far less harmful than conventional cigarettes.” The study also observed that the use of e-cigarettes could eventually move users to smoke conventional cigarettes.

The available knowledge on e-cigarettes is inadequate

In the year 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General observed, “The use of e-cigarette is a “public health concern that warrants immediate and coordinated action. Many questions remain about e-cigarettes and their long-term impact, even as evidence on patterns of use and risks to health continue to emerge.”


Overview of e-cigarettes and how they harm human health

An e-cigarette can be understood as an electronic apparatus that works by heating a liquid. The heated liquid becomes vapour and is then inhaled by the person using it. The e-liquid used for vaping burns at a lower temperature than the conventional cigarette. Unlike the traditional cigarette, an e-cigarette does not contain tar. However, it does produce a list of other chemicals. Commenting on the harmful releases they make, Dr Tatem says, “What we do know is that e-cigarettes contain some products that are harmful, particularly hard or heavy metals. Things like cadmium and other metals.”

Doctors advise not to get fooled

The most common name of e-cigarettes is vape pens. E-cigarettes make use of vaping liquids or e-liquids that come in different flavors. There are a large number of flavors we come across in the world of e-liquids. This fact must not fool the user encouraging the notion that their health is not at risk. Dr Tatem says, “The products that are produced by an e-cigarette are much different than the products produced by a traditional tobacco cigarette. So, using it may still be harmful to the lungs. We don’t have enough research yet that tells us how much less harmful it is using an e-cigarette versus a traditional tobacco cigarette.”


Concluding remarks

Though e-cigarettes are in no way safe for human use, they only mark a technological shift in the way people consume tobacco and other drugs. In the NASEM report published sometime back, three potential effects of e-cigarettes have been highlighted.

  • e-cigarettes are lesser harmful than the conventional cigarettes.
  • e-cigarettes contain lesser amounts of harmful substances than the conventional cigarettes.
  • e-cigarettes might help people aspiring to quit smoking to gradually escape their addiction.
Commenting that e-cigarettes are not tob e resorted without any discretion, Dr Tatem says, “As a pulmonologist, I see lots of patients who have developed the disease as a result of tobacco and smoking products. Anything you can use to reduce the amount of tobacco you smoke is potentially a good thing. More research is needed to help us clarify the difference between e-cigarettes and vape pens, and how much less harmful they can be relative to tobacco cigarettes.”