E-cigarettes are still a fairly recent invention, and the lack of regulation and research has raised some questions about their safety and health aspects. The following will outline the situation with both nicotine and E-cigarettes as they currently stand.
There is no current evidence that suggests nicotine has any major serious health implications, other than being addictive. The majority of complications created by smoking come from the by-products of burning tobacco, such as carbon-monoxide, tar and the thousands of other chemicals created. Nicotine by itself contains none of these toxins, it is a stimulant that causes the body and mind to feel more alert and active.
Although nicotine is one of the most widely used drugs in the world, there is little scientific research into its long term effects. Studies on rats have found no increase in mortality or frequency of tumours. There is research that suggests nicotine could potentially be carcinogenic; but this is widely debated and there is no current proof to back up the claim. The way things currently stand, most scientific evidence to date suggests the only recognised danger of nicotine lies in the addiction.
This brings us onto e-cigarettes themselves. Although nicotine may not pose a serious health risk in itself, how does vaporising it, and the other ingredients present in e-liquids affect our health?
Until recently, organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), have heavily campaigned for the restriction of e-cigarettes, based on the argument that they are not sufficiently researched. However, in the meantime clinical research has emerged, with initial results suggesting they pose no more risk than using a nicotine patch.
A study published by the Lancet has taken the first steps to fully evaluate the long term effects of e-cigarette use in a large group of smokers compared to those using other methods of obtaining nicotine. The study involved 657 regular smokers, with each being assigning one of three options – either being given an e-cigarette containing nicotine, a placebo e-cigarette, or a nicotine patch. The results found no significant difference in side effects between those using nicotine in an e-cigarette and those using a nicotine patch.
Although this is a positive outcome for e-cigarette advocates, it must be noted that this is the first real large scale experiment to be published. It is a good indication that e-cigarettes pose no health risk, but more studies will need to follow.
E-Liquid come in two forms, either as propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG). Propylene glycol based liquids are more common, as it show more favourable chemical properties for the use in e-cigarettes. Both the World Health Organisation and the american FDA consider PG as safe, and studies have determined PG not be carcinogenic or toxic.
PG is commonly used in many consumer products such as cosmetics, baby wipes and asthma inhalers. On the downside, PG appears to occasionally provoke allergic reactions in a minority. Particularly users with pre-existing eczema or other skin conditions might react sensitively to the substance.
Vegetable glycerin is less commonly found in e-cigarettes, mainly due to its thicker consistency and sweet taste. VG is produced from plant oils such a coconut oil, soy, or palm oil. Similar to PG, vegetable glycerin can be found in a range of household products such as lotions, moisturisers, soaps, and shampoos. There are no known risks associated with vegetable glycerin, and it has been established as safe to eat. Some users have observed phlegm building up in the throat after using a VG based e-cigarette, as opposed to reports of a dry mouth following a PG vape.
The current opinion is summed up nicely by the Boston University of Public Health, who concluded their own research into the matter stating that “few, if any, chemicals at levels detected in electronic cigarettes raise serious health concerns”. It is safe to say, that if you are looking to move away from tobacco, that e-cigarettes are a very viable option.