Where there’s smoke, there’s fire; but you can still get burned with smokeless, say critics of electronic cigarettes. They look just like a teensy personal sheesha pipe. You’d guess it’s safe, right? Think again.
Invented in the 1960’s, they went mainstream in the last decade. The, battery-operated substitutes designed to look like regular smokes but functional without tobacco. These atomizers are loaded with nicotine-laced liquid that, when heated, turns to inhalable vapor – usually flavored – delivering their chemical cocktail directly to the lungs. Exhaled vapor looks like smoke, but lacks tobacco by-products.
Recent headlines have undermined manufacturer claims that the e-cigarette is a healthy, environmental alternative to cigarettes.
A new study on actual smoking suggests the dangers are far worse than just lung cancer. Maybe e-cigarettes are the stepping stone to freedom?
It’s hard to say.
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analyzed samples of two popular brands finding variable amounts of nicotine and trace carcinogens. Last month, a French court ruled that e-cigarettes qualify as tobacco products and can only be sold by licensed tobacconists – bad news for the country’s specialist e-cigarette sellers.
Big tobacco companies have been releasing their own branded versions, viewing e-cigs as a lucrative new market (ABC News reports that the devices will net $1 billion in profits this year in the US alone). In America, the devices are not taxed as ordinary cigarettes and are not subject to strict tobacco laws. Meanwhile, France plans to ban use in public places and all related advertising.
Here in Jordan, where I’ve been choked by cigarette smoke in taxis, in the workplace toilets, and in doctors’ consultation offices, I thought a trend towards smokeless smokes would be a breath of clean air. Advocates boast reduced health risks for users and bystanders, suggesting that low chemical levels in exhaled vapor eliminate the dangers of passive smoking.
But while they aren’t as toxic as regular cigarettes, they’re not exactly safe, and they’re not regulated by overseeing bodies (like the FDA). Manufacturers have no legal responsibility to be transparent about their ingredients. Tests of e-cig vapor revealed the presence of the formaldehyde and acrolein. Their fluids contain high levels of nicotine, a substance ranked third in terms of addictiveness after heroin and cocaine.
And they tend to prolong addiction as they allow smokers to sidestep strict anti-smoking policies and continually “light up” in places where real smoking is banned, such as airplanes and offices.
Dr. Feras Hawari, Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care and Director of the Cancer Control Office at the King Hussein Cancer Center stated on their website, “Smokers need to be aware that even if they transition to e-cigarettes, when the cartridge is empty and they don’t have access to another, they are likely to go back to smoking cigarettes again to get their nicotine fix.
“The best solution is to quit all forms of smoking permanently to detoxify your body from nicotine.”
Hawari’s greatest concern is that they make smoking look “normal” and socially acceptable, undermining the kingdom’s efforts to expose smoking for the dangerous habit that it is. “When you smoke e-cigarettes in front of children, who learn by observing, you are still promoting smoking as a cool habit. Children don’t know the difference between an e-cig and an actual one”. Last May, an Israeli toddler died from ingesting e-cigarette fluid.
If you are a smoker looking to quit, tap into tools and counseling offered by the Smoking Cessation Center Clinic at the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman. For more information on how to make an appointment with the clinic, click here.
Given the relative newness of electronic cigarettes, long-term health effects are still unknown. Until potential risks are better known, stay safe and say no to smokeless.
Image of a man smoking an e-cigarette from Shutterstock