Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes as commonly referred to by users, were marketed towards consumers as a possible way to quit traditional cigarettes while still getting a nicotine fix. It is a common misbelief that vaping, the use of e-cigarettes, is harmless, and many users falsely claim that the vapor is simply water vapor. However, these claims show a lack of consumer responsibility in researching the product they are consuming. A study performed by Japanese scientists displays that the liquid in e-cigarettes have formaldehyde and acetaldehyde carcinogens. In fact, the formaldehyde carcinogen is more present in e-cigarettes than traditional ones. This is not to say that traditional cigarettes are better for consumers than e-cigarettes, but both pose high risks.
Currently, e-cigarettes pose a higher risk to minors than traditional cigarettes do. In the United States, there is no ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. This, combined with the false belief that e-cigarettes are harmless, has turned e-cigarettes into an arena to legally experiment with nicotine. NPR cites a national survey that displays e-cigarettes have become the most popular tobacco product among minors. However, the same article warns of the dangers of nicotine on the adolescent brain. Nicotine use as a minor may impair brain development and promote addiction. In fact, Dean E. Schraufnagel, MD at the University of Illinois at Chicago, describes e-cigarettes in an article he wrote as a potential “gateway to addiction” because it is common for nicotine dependence to lead to abuse of other addictive substances. This is a disturbing possibility when juxtaposed with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth and Tobacco Survey which displayed a rise in high school students’ use of e-cigarettes from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014.
Even with proof of the harm nicotine causes minors, companies continue to target them as consumers. This is evident when observing the possible flavors of e-cigarettes. There are flavors like vanilla and cookies and cream milkshake. Companies claim that this is not targeting minors, yet according to the National Youth and Tobacco Survey, 50 percent of high school students are open to trying e-cigarettes particularly because of the flavors. The FDA decided in 2009 to prohibit adding flavors to traditional cigarettes because it targeted consumers that were minors. This should be the same for e-cigarettes, and with knowledge of the risks, minors should not be allowed to buy e-cigarettes.
There is an underlying danger in the sale of nicotine refills for e-cigarettes. This is because the refills contain liquid nicotine which is toxic if consumed. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, between January 1 and March 24 of 2014, 651 exposures to e-cigarette devices or liquid nicotine were reported in the U.S. Over half of these reports involved children under 6 years old. This alarming number could be reduced if the public was informed of the danger and the nicotine was sold more carefully.
It is now common to see e-cigarettes being used in public spaces due to an argument that there is no second hand smoke from these devices. However, that is a false defense. According to a new study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, e-cigarettes generate enough nicotine emissions to cause a second-hand nicotine exposure. The vapor also contains harmful metals like chromium and nickel in higher concentrations than smoke from traditional cigarettes, according to a study by the University of Southern California. The United Nations World Health Organization recognizes this danger and has urged governments to impose stricter regulations of e-cigarettes, including prohibiting their use in indoor public spaces and banning sales to minors.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in the process of acquiring authority over e-cigarette regulation. At the moment, there is nothing regulating the sales or ingredients of the devices. The lack of authority is the reason minors can purchase the products. There is a variation from brand to brand in the levels of nicotine and harmful chemicals in an e-cigarette. These are all issues that need to be addressed once the FDA expands its authority. This should happen in June of this year, but in the event that they fail to expand their authority, or in combination with the future regulations, information must be spread about the harmful possibilities of e-cigarettes.