Electronic Cigarette Health Risks


An electronic cigarette is also known as an e-cigarette.

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Humans have smoked cigarettes and used tobacco products for centuries without knowing its ill-effects. However, with the advancements in technology and medical research cigarette smoking has been deemed as one of the primary causes of cancers, especially lung cancer.

Increased awareness among the public has led to the development of several alternatives for cigarettes. One such alternative is an electronic cigarette. But there is debate on the health risks of using electronic cigarettes.

An explanation of the electronic cigarette, its pros and cons as well as the health risks are mentioned below.

What does electronic cigarette contain?

Conventional cigarettes are being widely replaced by electronic cigarettes in the current world that is striving to find harmless alternatives. Electronic cigarette is a device that uses heat to produce an aerosol mist made of nicotine. This mist is then inhaled by the user. Some types of electronic cigarettes may use ultrasonics to produce the mist.

Electronic cigarettes are available in various shapes and sizes that may or may look like conventional cigarettes. Some may be in the form of pens or markers while other models may be in the shape of pipes or cigars.

Electronic cigarettes generally tend to be long and cylindrical devices that consist of 3 main parts. They are the cartridge or the mouthpiece, an equipment to hold the battery and an atomizer or the heating element. In addition to these parts, an electronic cigarette also has a colored LED light that glows when an individual is using it. It resembles the tip or the end of a glowing and burning conventional cigarette.

The cartridge or the mouthpiece

  • The mouthpiece resembles a cylindrical pipe and has two open ends. One end is fixed to the atomizer. In addition to serving as a mouthpiece, the cartridge also holds the nicotine in an absorbent sponge that is held in its place with the help of two plastic barriers.
  • The nicotine vapor travels to the user’s mouth through side channels that are present on either side of the nicotine container. During its use, an electronic cigarette allows the passage of nicotine solution to the atomizer and at that very moment the vaporized nicotine travels to the user’s mouth.
  • Thus, the construction of the cartridge prevents the mixing of the solution and the vapor as well as the flow of either one of them in opposite directions. Once the nicotine content in the cartridge is over, the user either has to replace the cartridge or refill it.

The heating element or the atomizer

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  • The atomizer is attached to a battery unit at one end and to the mouthpiece at the other.
  • It consists of a wicking metal mesh and a filament. The wire mesh absorbs the nicotine solution which transfers some of it to the filament.
  • The filament is a high resistance wire that is heated by the battery unit leading to the production of nicotine vapor.
  • Some atomizers have a sensor that detect the air flow and subsequently start the process of vaporizing the nicotine solution. Other atomizers which do not have sensors may require the turning on of a switch to start the process. Such manual atomizers have timers to prevent overheating of the filament.
  • The filament has to be replaced regularly as it tends to become dirty and defunct due to the deposition of sediments.

The battery or power unit

  • The power unit is the longest part of an electronic cigarette. It usually consists of a lithium-ion which can be recharged through a USB connection.
  • It also has additional circuitry that is used for lighting the LED tip of the cigarette. One of its ends is attached to the LED while the other is attached to the atomizer

The pros, cons and health risks of electronic cigarettes

  • Electronic cigarettes are smokeless cigarettes. On the other hand, the smoke of conventional cigarettes contains the psychoactive chemical nicotine, around nineteen known carcinogens as well as several other harmful chemicals.
  • They are available in a number of flavors and provide a physical sensation that is similar to conventional cigarettes. Additionally, the possibility of passive smoking is also nullified.
  • However, FDA conducted research has shown that:
    • Some electronic cigarettes have excessive amounts of nicotine.
    • Some of them contain carcinogens known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines while others contain a toxic substance called Diethylene glycol, which places the kids and teenagers at great risk.
    • WHO does not support the safety of this product and has called for regulatory measures in this field. WHO also wants the problems such as leaking cartridges and the disposal of used cartridges and other accessories to be looked into.
    • As per ‘Health Canada.’ electronic cigarettes can lead to
      • Nicotine addiction and poisoning
      • The constriction of the arteries from long term use
      • Nicotine overdose which can lead to hypertension, cardiac difficulties, GERD, stroke as well as peptic ulcers.
      • One can conclude that electronic cigarettes are safe for those who are addicted to conventional cigarettes. However, they are dangerous to first time smokers or users of electronic cigarettes
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