How do E-Cigarettes and other Vapourisers Work?


E-cigarettes and vapourisers are battery operated devices that release nicotine by heating up chemicals or e-liquids and turning them into vapour, which users then inhale. The main difference from regular cigarettes is the absence of tobacco leaves.

Part of its appeal, especially to youths, is the variety of interesting forms such as cigarettes, pipes and even nondescript everyday items such as pens and USB memory sticks; e-liquids are also offered in a variety of flavours, from apple to mint or even a cocktail-mix of flavours.

Related: Get the Facts Right About Tobacco Products

So, is it Safe?


Despite its relatively harmless-looking exterior and playful marketing, the main function of e-cigarettes is essentially still to dispense nicotine, which is not only addictive but causes harmful side effects[1] such as a decrease in appetite, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and even sweating, nausea and diarrhoea in more extreme cases.

In addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes and vapourisers also contain other substances that increase the risk of cancer. These include formaldehyde and acetaldehyde[2], as well as potentially toxic metal nanoparticles[3] from the vaporising mechanism in e-cigarettes.

Related: Smoking Increases Your Risk of Diabetes

Gateway for Youths to Start Smoking Regular Cigarettes

While many e-cigarette retailers market their products as an aid that can help existing smokers to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are for many youths their first foray into the world of smoking[4]. Since e-cigarettes and vapourisers are widely available online, albeit illegally (do note that penalties for purchasing e-cigarettes from overseas are harsh and can incur fines of up to $10,000), many youths end up experimenting with e-cigarettes, which may subsequently lead to real cigarette use[4].

Studies have shown that youths who try vaping (the act of using a vapouriser) are more likely to pick up a cigarette if they haven’t done so before. A recent study done in the US showed that students who used e-cigarettes by the time they started 9th grade (15 years old) were more likely than others to start smoking traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products[5].

Related: Smoking — Habit or Addiction?

The Dangers of an Unregulated Industry


Besides the known harmful effects of e-cigarettes, dabbling in an unregulated industry also exposes you to many other risks.

The list of ingredients, for example, can vary widely between different manufacturers. Without a regulatory body to monitor the ingredients that go into a vaping device, you cannot be certain what harmful chemicals might be contained within the e-liquids.

Furthermore, because e-liquids come in a concentrated form, users may expose themselves to potentially toxic levels of nicotine when refilling the e-cartridges[6]. Accidents are not only restricted to consumption though, with a growing number of cases of vapourisers and e-cigarettes exploding and catching fire being reported in the media[7].

Finally, while most e-cigarettes on the market today contain nicotine and flavoured chemicals, it is worrying to think that these same devices could potentially be used in the future as a way to dispense harder and more harmful drugs.

In conclusion, because e-cigarettes have only been on the market for around 10 years, more long-term studies still need to be conducted. What you can be certain, however, is that e-cigarettes are illegal and come with a host of already identified negative effects, as well as further unknown ones.

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  1. Mishra, A., Chaturvedi, P., Datta, S., Sinukumar, S., Joshi, P., & Garg, A. (2015, Feb 19). Harmful effects of nicotine. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, 36(1), p. 24-31.
    Retrieved March 2017 from http://www.ijmpo.org/article.asp?issn=0971-5851;year=2015;volume=36;issue=1;spage=24;epage=31;aulast=Mishra

  2. Kosmider, L., Sobczak, A., Fik, M., Knysak, J., Zaciera, M., Kurek, J., et al. (2014, May 15). Carbonyl Compounds in Electronic Cigarette Vapors: Effects of Nicotine Solvent and Battery Output Voltage. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 16(10), p. 1319-1326.
    Retrieved March 2017 from https://academic.oup.com/ntr/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/ntr/ntu078

  3. Williams, M., Villarreal, A., Bozhilov, K., Lin, S., & Talbot, P. (2013, Mar 20). Metal and Silicate Particles Including Nanoparticles Are Present in Electronic Cigarette Cartomizer Fluid and Aerosol. Public Library of Science One, 8(3), p 1-11.
    Retrieved March 2017 from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057987

  4. Matthers, S. (2016, Jun 13). Vaping IS a gateway to smoking: Teenagers who use e-cigarettes 'are six times more likely to smoke tobacco' DailyMail Online.
    Retrieved March 2017 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3638405/Vaping-teens-apt-regular-cigarettes-U-S-study.html

  5. Rigotti, N. A. (2015, Aug 18). e-Cigarette Use and Subsequent Tobacco Use by Adolescents: New Evidence About a Potential Risk of e-Cigarettes. Journal of American Medical Association, 314(7), p. 673-674.
    Retrieved March 2017 from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2428937

  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, May 5). Electronic Cigarettes (e-Cigarettes) [Website].
    Retrieved March 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes

  7. Scutti, S. (2017, Jan 4). FDA workshop to examine exploding e-cigarettes. CNN.
    Retrieved March 2017 from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/04/health/e-cigarette-battery-fda-workshop/