So, maybe you have a bad, negative, or stereotypical opinion on e-cigarettes. Maybe, like many, you think they are just liquified tobacco in an electronic stick, emitting the same harmful chemicals and carcinogens as regular cigarettes. Perhaps you just don’t like seeing those clouds of “smoke” a person using an e-cigarette plumes out. As the title of this article says “I don’t like e-cigarettes”, well, if that’s you saying this, you might be surprised to find out almost everything you thought about e-cigarettes could actually be false.
What is an e-cigarette?
Let’s talk about what’s going on in an e-cigarette. At its most basic form, it is a battery, powering a heat coil. That heat coil has a wicking material stuck through it, like cotton or silica. The wicking material feeds “e-juice” to the coil to be, in essence, atomized (when combined with airflow) and converted to vapor. It’s this action which creates the visible vapor (what you might think of as smoke, but it’s really not), which is inhaled and exhaled by the vaper (they don’t call themselves smokers). It’s not even steam per-se, but more like an on-demand aerosol created when incoming airflow mixes with little heat-excited droplets on the coil. This event is called atomization. It is this “atomization” of air and eliquid that forms the vapor that a vaper inhales.
So What’s in the Juice?
The two main components that make up the juice and provide the vapor cloud are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol (referred to as PG and VG by vapers). The former (PG) is something you encounter most days — it’s the binding agent in most pills you swallow, and it’s often used in artificially flavoured coffee, ice cream, whipped dairy products, beer and soda. The latter (VG) is even more common; it’s used in a wide variety of food production. It’s used as a filler in low fat foods especially, since the FDA classifies it as a carbohydrate, and while it is mildly sweet, it has negligible calories. If you wanted to rate both on a safeness factor, both are extremely safe for human consumption (according the the FDA), but vegetable glycerol is even safer than propylene glycol.
Vegetable glycerol is sweeter, and creates more white visible “smoke” (white, puffy clouds of visible vapor), while propylene glycol is much more taste neutral, and was actually the very first liquid used when e-cigarettes were invented in 2004. Some say the clouds of vapor that PG produces are much closer, as a placebo, to the smoke produced by cigarettes (though without the associated nasty smells, chemicals, carcinogens and toxins). It also manages the transport of added pure nicotine, better than VG liquid does. Typically, e-juice is sold in a 50/50 mix of PG and VG.
About 80–90% of e-liquid used in e-cigarettes is made up of these two components. No “tobacco juice” here.
Between 10 and 20% of the e-liquid juice is flavourings. What are the flavourings? Literally the same thing found in every flavoured food sold in the grocery store. Peach extract. Concentrated caramel. Liquid chocolate. Essence of spices oils. And yes, some vapers like “tobacco flavourings” which have been made in food labs for decades to mimic the taste of various tobaccos. But the majority of the flavours used in e-liquids are candies, fruits, spices, chocolates, caramels, toffees, that kind of stuff. All things fully approved by the FDA (and all things mostly absorbed in the vaper’s mouth, attaching to the tongue and roof to impact taste).
These components, on their own, have been deemed completely safe for human consumption, the world over. However, in the interest of true fairness, e-cigarettes are using these components together in a method not used before (heating, vaporizing them). This is where we need more research. So far, everything points to this liquid still being a night and day difference over tobacco smoke in terms of human health and safety when ingested into the lungs, but the entire vaping community wants real, concrete, unbiased study into what effects e-liquid has on the human body from its use in e-cigarettes. As far as I know, no one — not the nay sayers, and not the proponents of e-cigarettes — has done a long term, indisputable scientific study on this subject.
Then there’s nicotine. Where does this nicotine come from? It’s purified, pharmaceutical nicotine, extracted from tobacco leaf, but it can also be extracted from other things, including eggplant (no kidding!) and in Australia, from the corkwood tree (which has 4x the nicotine amounts that tobacco leaf does). In fact, nicotine is produced by a wide variety of plants classified as “nightshade”. Now I could go on and on about nicotine and some misconceptions about it (it’s quite close to caffeine in how it affects your body), but at the end of the day, I don’t use it in vaping myself, and many vapers avoid the stuff too. (I’ll talk a bit more about nicotine at the end of this article).
So that’s your juice makeup. No extracted “tobacco juice”. No 6,000 harmful chemicals emitted into the air. No “it’s just like a cigarette inside and I don’t want to breathe that second hand stuff.” The emissions put out by vapers have been tested and shown to not be harmful to second hand folks. And as a personal note, the emissions often smell nice to those around you.
e-Cigarettes are not Cigarettes
I know — perception is reality — a person vaping away is emitting these huge clouds of white “smoke” (that is, if they’re using an advanced vape system with a powerful battery and something called a “sub-ohm atomizer”). That’s just like smoking!
The thing is, it isn’t. It is at worst a placebo effect for the vaper who most likely is an ex-smoker, or a smoker trying to quit. But in truth, other than some visual aesthetics and copying the visual and physical style of smoking a cigarette, there’s very little in common. Think about this — seeing someone drink a glass of water isn’t much different from seeing them drink a glass of vodka. Visually, identical. But inside that glass, two very different things. Perception vs. reality.
Vaping does not involve burning something. Under normal (and even extreme) use, the process of vaping doesn’t burn anything inside its atomizer. Burning (carbonizing) is one of the big creators of all the carcinogens and toxins you know are bad in cigarettes and second hand smoke. Organic material is burnt, undergoes drastic chemical changes, is inhaled and exhaled. In vaping, the e-liquid is heated up so microscopic droplets dance on the heat coil. Incoming airflow (via the person sucking in on the e-cigarette) mixes with those dancing micro droplets and atomization occurs, mixing both air and the droplets into the vapor that is inhaled. It’s not even a boiling action, but more of an on-the-fly aerosol creation device. This is why vapor is actually fairly cool (and cool to the skin if you blow the vape cloud on your arm). Bottom line? Nothing burning. Nothing melting. Nothing creating carcinogens. Nothing carbonizing or turning to ash. There are no carcinogens in the vapor emissions of a vaper blowing clouds.
There are no proven harmful elements in vape’s emissions. Nothing. Nada. There have been several prominent studies on this (here’s one by Drexal University), and nothing of note is harmful to humans in any way from the clouds emitted by vapers. Seriously — check it out.
If you want a visual example of the differences, check out this video demonstrating the filtered effects of an e-cigarette vs a traditional cigarette.
Now to be fair, there has been one recent study showing, yes, there is the potential for harmful things, including carcinogens created by e-cigarettes, but you have to be made aware these tests were poorly done, and used e-cigarettes well outside their normal (and even extreme) use. The testing was done to the point of actually burning the wicks inside the e-cig’s atomizer (well, well beyond normal use by a vaper) and it was the emissions caused by those burning wicks that produced carcinogens. At least the New York Times debunked the study, and the researchers at Portland State University (who did the research) have admitted themselves their testing procedures were flawed, and that, under normal use, e-cigarettes emitted no carcinogens or harmful toxins.
If you remember reading those explosive headlines when that study first came out: “e-cigarettes contain 10x more carcinogens than cigarettes!”, I cannot state clearly enough that no person using an e-cigarette uses these devices to that level PSU found carcinogens in the vapor (it tastes completely horrible if you burn a wick, no e-cig user wants that). I could deliver the same level of carcinogens from toast if I burnt it and then made you eat it. That’s all that study proved.
You may have read that the American Cancer Society, American Lung Society, and the Canadian Cancer Society have come out against e-cigarettes. While I’m not a huge proponent of conspiracy theories, it is important to note that these organizations receive substantial donations from pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in seeing e-cigarettes fail as an industry, including, but not limited to, Pfizer (who market the suicide-prone Champix (Chantix in the US) cessation drug). Myself, I prefer to read studies, statistics and research from companies with a neutral, non-vested interest in either side of the issue. We’re still waiting for these things for the most part, but in the next section, I’ll talk about one large health organization doing just that.
What About the Children!
Right now, various provinces and states are bringing in very short sighted and ignorant legislation banning or severely restricting e-cigarettes. The province of British Columbia is one such state. They claim it’s to protect the children from using e-cigarettes and using them as a gateway to smoking. The problem is, the BC Minister of Health, Dr. Terry Lake, has absolutely no concrete proof, no real studies or surveys to show this is happening, or that it’s even a real threat. It’s all about perception.
Let’s talk about proof for a moment. In the UK, an independent health organization involved in anti-smoking education has done studies, a variety of them. In one of their biggest, they determined that adoption rate to e-cigarettes by people who were not previously smokers is less than 1%. Less than 1% of people who regularly vape didn’t smoke cigarettes before getting into vaping.
One thing vaping is not: it is not a gateway device for youth to get into smoking tobacco. There is absolutely no proof for this. This is a perception without any statistical proof, or scientific study to back it up. And when you think about it, it’s kind of insane: why would anyone go from something that costs them $20, $30 a month “as a hobby”, to something costing them $500, $750 a month (as an addiction).
The fact is, e-cigarettes and vaping were invented to help people quit cigarettes.
The continued development of technology in e-cigarettes is focused on making it even more of a placebo effect of the act of smoking a cigarette. Make the ideal placebo (but take away all the harm) and it is the perfect cessation tool. That it is less stigmatized, that a worker can do it at his or her desk (with the boss’ permission) means it is an even better cessation tool. That a person can sit on their deck, or at a baseball game, deal with their urge and vape instead of doing something illegal (smoking), makes it a better cessation tool.
In the UK studies, up to 81% of people trying e-cigarettes have used them to successfully quit smoking, or have reduced their smoking, in some cases dramatically (going from 20 cigarettes a day to 3 or 4). Compare that to nicotine gum and patches, with a <4% success rate, and a suicide-prone drug (Champix) with under 10% success rate.
You, e-Cigarettes, and the Future
At the end of the day, if you hate cigarettes, hate smoking, hate second hand smoke, you should absolutely love and embrace e-cigarettes. Instead of assuming and perceiving e-cigarettes as “more of the same”, you should be welcoming e-cigarettes and encouraging their use with your friends who are still smoking cigarettes.
Right now, across Canada, this fantastic cessation tool is under attack by short sighted politicians relying on hearsay, the words of organizations backed by pharmaceutical companies who want e-cigarettes to fail, and… perception. In BC, they plan to legislate e-cigarettes to be under the exact same laws as cigarettes, including all the associated bans and restrictions. This will severely limit the e-cigarette’s ability to work as an effective cessation tool for smokers. It will stigmatize e-cigarettes and vapers further. It will take away any incentive for a smoker to use them to quit, since they’ll face the same bans, the same restrictions, the same stigma a smoker faces.
This has to end. Vapers across Canada are already organizing, but your MLA, MPP, MP and City Councillor has to hear from you, the non smoker as well. If you hate smoking and its effects and costs on society, e-cigarettes provide the absolute best tool available today to turn smokers into ex-smokers, as it presents an effective placebo effect to the entire gamut of tobacco addiction.
Tobacco addiction is a nasty, dirty, complex thing, that isn’t centred around nicotine — it’s a wide tentacle of elements that make up the addiction, from the “oral fixation”, to having something in your hand, to the micro-break it provides, to the taste, to the effect, and yes, to the buzz delivered by the nicotine.
E-Cigarettes provide humankind’s absolute best chance currently of helping smokers quit a nasty habit and harm-reduce manage an addiction.
E-Cigarettes provide humankind’s absolute best chance currently of helping smokers quit a nasty habit and harm-reduce manage an addiction. And vaping people are basically just walking air fresheners. Rest easy, you should have no cause or concern if you happen to breathe second hand “vaping”, except for enjoying the nice, pleasant smells.
So… nicotine. Evil stuff. Dastardly. What most folks believe is not only the most addictive element in cigarettes, but the most addictive thing in the world. Non smokers who try a full cigarette readily notice the head rush delivered by the nicotine.
Let’s set a few things straight that you may not know. First, nicotine is addictive. No doubt about it. But it’s only part of the addiction complex in smoking cigarettes. But did you know that pure, pharmaceutical grade nicotine is actually not very harmful to the human body in mild doses? That its effect on the human body, away from all the carcinogens and toxins in cigarette smoke, is not much different than caffeine?
In fact, nicotine has positive effects on the body as well; it’s an antidepressant, and while research is new for this, it’s proving a very effective one. It has other positive effects as well, but don’t take my word for it, read the US Government’s published medical papers on the subject. There’s good stuff in the science in pure nicotine. And the industry is moving more towards sourcing pure, perfect nicotine without any byproducts. Nicotine also has very little in the way of ‘evil toxins” associated with cigarettes.
Nicotine. A drug. An addictive drug. But not really a bad drug, on its own. It’s been made entirely evil based on its association with smoking.
Hey! Did you make it this far in the article? First of all, thank you. And if you are a non smoker and non vaper, really, really thank you. Now I have some bonus content for you, if you want to learn even more.
First up, here’s a very well written article called “10 facts everyone gets wrong about vaping”. Yes, I know it’s written by a person who makes eliquid for a living, so there’s an obvious bias, but as far as these kinds of articles go, it is very well written, and very well rounded. It recognizes problems and issues we have in the world of vaping, doesn’t pull any punches against (or for), and will bust some additional myths about vaping that my article doesn’t cover.