Electronic cigarettes are a relatively new phenomenon, developed in China in 2004. They were invented as an alternative to other smoked tobacco products such as cigars and cigarettes. The term ‘analog cigarette’ refers to the traditional tobacco cigarette. Before we discuss a comparison of the two, let us explore the e-cigarette.
An electronic-cigarette (or personal vaporizer) is a re-usable battery powered oral device in which the user inhales a vaporized solution. There are many styles and forms, but generally they are comprised of a mouthpiece, the atomizer (containing a heating element and various circuits), the cartridge and the battery. The atomizer is the engine behind the inhalant. It contains a ceramic cup with a heating element that vaporizes the liquid solution. The cartridge holds a porous material that is meant to absorb the liquid. A rechargeable lithium battery powers the atomizer, however some e-cigarettes also have USB attachments adding flexibility for the user. Most recently, a personal charging case has been developed to allow for on the go charging.
Using an electronic cigarette entails nothing more than inhaling. A sensor detects the air flow and releases the vapor. Manual e-cigarettes have a button the user must press whenever they wish to inhale.
The vapor cartridges are available in a multitude or ‘flavors’ including banana, Cuban cigar, Pina Colada, coffee and tobacco. The e-liquid typically contains propylene glycol, nicotine, glycerol, essence (depending on the flavor), organic acid and an anti-oxidation agent.
It is too early to tell if there are any long term adverse effects of using electronic cigarettes, however there are several studies currently in progress. It is not hard to surmise that anything containing nicotine is not be beneficial to human health, but how do e-cigarettes compare to analog cigarettes? The typical ingredients in e-liquid are quite different from the typical ingredients of a traditional cigarette. In a general sense, tobacco based cigarettes contain butane, cadmium, stearic acid, toluene, nicotine, ammonia, acetic acid, methane, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methanol, acetone, formaldehyde and urea. The comparison between the two has an obvious conclusion, however nicotine still has a danger to it, no matter how it enters the body. The average tobacco based cigarette contains 1 mg of nicotine. One electronic cigarette cartridge contains 14-16 mg of nicotine, but is not meant to be inhaled in one use, or even in one day depending on your habit.
The World Health Organization stated that it did not consider the electronic cigarette to be a tool in the cessation of tobacco smoking. The American Food and Drug Administration has categorized the electronic cigarette as a ‘drug delivery device’ and therefore plans to regulate the its sale. In Europe, the product has been heavily marketed and embraced. The Electronic Cigarette Association has estimated that half a million Europeans use the product. Health Canada has issued an advisory against electronic cigarettes, mostly in response to conjecture that they are a safe alternative to tobacco based cigarettes.
There is something to be said about the comparable lack of a fire hazard with the electronic cigarette. A traditional tobacco cigarette is obviously lit during use, and the well known possibility fire will always be a factor. The electronic cigarette does not hold the same danger. There is no lit ember. The heating coil is only activated when air flow is detected in close proximity, for example, within millimeters. Even at that point, the heating element is only powered by a 3 or 4 volt battery.
No matter if you are a smoker, a past smoker or an anti-smoker, the perceived benefits of the electronic cigarette are obvious. There are far fewer harmful chemicals being taken into the body, no tar build up in the lungs and almost no fire hazard. The nicotine content in an electronic cigarette is higher, depending in the strength chosen, but keep in mind that each cartridge is not mean to be used in one sitting. Most users feel the need to go through an entire cartridge right away and can end up feeling ill as a result. Just gaining the habit of less frequent use can be a challenge, and may eventually lead to complete cessation.
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