Electronic cigarettes are small electronic devices that vaporize a nicotine solution to be inhaled by users. There’s not a lot to them. Researchers have even said that, for the average smoker, two additional months of smoking could be more harmful than using electronic cigarettes instead for the rest of his or her life. More research still needs to be done, but knowing what is in most electronic cigarettes leads most individuals to believe that they can’t possibly do the same amount of harm as conventional cigarettes.
The industry is only now beginning to self-regulate and there are still companies that aren’t totally open about their products and processes. But here’s the essential pieces that make up what you’re breathing in when you use an electronic cigarette.
Propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), or a combination of both. To form the base of the vapor electronic cigarettes produce, most companies use a combination of PG and VG. These substances are considered safe for consumption and are in a number of vaporized delivery methods used by medical groups. On rare occasion, some individuals have been found to be allergic to either base but can often find a product using only the substance they can tolerate. For individuals that care, there is at least one company that has perfected an organic VG compound.
Natural or artificial flavors. This is were the least clarity exists with some electronic cigarette products. Some flavors when converted to vapor (particularly buttery and sweet flavors) can be toxic. Most companies now have statements on their products and websites about the existence or non-existence of dangerous substances (namely diacetyl). Legitimate American-based companies use FDA-approved flavor additives.
Nicotine. Most electronic cigarettes contain some amount of nicotine to provide the buzz that other tobacco products provide. The amount of nicotine is generally rated in milligrams per milliliter (expressed simply as mg). Zero mg means there is no nicotine, 4 to 8 mg is considered a low amount, 12 to 16 is considered moderate, while anything 18 mg and up is considered high. Few companies will produce liquid or electronic cigarettes above 24mg. Nicotine by itself is considered a toxin, but it is not a carcinogen (in this way, it is very similar to caffeine).
Researchers are working to determine just how toxic electronic cigarette use is. Currently, things are looking good. By simply getting rid of the smoke associated with conventional cigarettes, scientists say electronic cigarettes remove 98% of the health hazards. It may be some time before the FDA and other anti-smoking organizations admit that electronic cigarettes are a safer, acceptable alternative to smoking. It may be never.
Curious about the science behind electronic cigarettes? Read more here.