Electronic cigarettes were first introduced in the US in 2007. They were marketed as a device to help smokers cut back on their smoking habit. There are now opinions that remain divided as to their long-term impact on health.
The concerns include how e-cigarettes are marketed and what ingredients are contained within these devices. E-cigarettes have a mouthpiece or cartridge, an atomizer and a battery. The cartridge holds a liquid solution, usually containing nicotine, that is heated up and vaporized by the atomizer. Once the liquid is vaporized, the person can inhale it, mimicking the process of smoking. Unfortunately, the solutions within the cartridges have variable concentrations of nicotine – amounts can range from no nicotine at all to high concentrations of 24-36 mg/ml. Also the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a report last year revealing that the number of e-cigarette-related calls to poison centers in the US had increased dramatically over the past 5 years. In 2010 there was one call per month, but this rose to around 215 calls per month by 2014.
What does this mean? Well the director of the CDC stated that the report “raises another red flag about e-cigarettes: the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous.” Defenders of the device however pointed out that more than half of the call to poison centers involved children aged 5 years and under. Which they stated suggested that a misuse of a product intended for adults was to blame. But the investigators said that the child poisoning was usually due to direct contact with the cartridge liquid, either through ingestion, inhalation or exposure to the liquid on their skin or eyes. Currently these devices are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavors that are appealing to children.
Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a proposal to extend current tobacco regulations to include all e-cigarettes and other products that meet the legal definintion of a tobacco product. This would allow them to restrict the way e-cigarettes are advertise and promoted, especially campaigns designed to appeal to youths. Consumers will also have to wait for an accepted set of measures to confirm the purity of e-cigarettes and the liquids used within.
Much is still unknown about precisely what is present in terms of chemicals, and what their long-term effects might be. When two brands where analyzed by the FDA they found variable levels of nicotine and identified traces of toxic chemicals including carcinogens (formaldehyde and acetaldehyde), which are substances known to cause cancer. Another study from the University of Southern California found that the vapor produced by a popular brand of e-cigarette contained toxic levels of certain metals, nickel and chromium, far greater than those found in the smoke of traditional cigarettes. I think there is still research to be done to definitively find out the safety of these devices, although the consensus seems to be that they are sill less harmful that regular cigarettes. But without further regulations to make a standardized product, I feel that the number of child poisonings are going to continue.