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E Cigarettes: Real Results or Smoke and Mirrors?

Inside an e cigarette.

Take a peek inside the operation of an e cigarette.

A new trend that is buzzing about now are e cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes (as compared to “analog” cigarettes, in the lingo of the e cig industry) actually do the vaporizing thing in a unique way, by using “e liquid” (how can a liquid be electronic?) concentrates containing nicotine within mixed flavors, including tobacco brands. It certainly sounds like an inviting alternative to weaning one’s self off both smoking and nicotine, by replacing smoking with a vaporizing habit and by slowly reducing your nicotine intake (similar to the patch process), until you get down to zero. And theoretically, you can continue to enjoy the whole process after you have been weaned from your nicotine, as most manufacturers also provide nicotine-free flavors.

There is something very crazy about e cigarettes, the traditional tobacco industry and the Internet. Go to ebay or Amazon and type in “e cigarettes” (or “e cigs” or “e liquids” or other phrases that clearly point to the e cigarette industry), and your results come up blanks. You will find accessories for e cigarettes, but you will not find any e cigarettes or e liquids for sale at either site. Google results will fare a bit better and will give you forums and a few e cig manufacturers, but not one advertisement will appear in the results, because Google will not accept paid advertising for e cigarettes. And that is what is crazy about this whole thing: search for portable vaporizers (and e cigarettes are clearly portable vaporizers), you will find a plethora of products you can purchase on ebay and Amazon, and Google will list pages of information (plus paid ads!) on the same results. And here is the kicker: to cover their greedy corporate asses, ALL of the portable vaporizers sold (intended for herbal uses, of which the majority of such uses are for marijuana - and therefore illegal) issue a warning/statement/CYA along the lines of: this is intended ONLY for the use of tobacco products! So apparently a product intended to REPLACE the use of tobacco products is verboten but if you dangle a product that could nebulously be used for tobacco (but is clearly intended for something greener and cleaner), that is A-OK with the WWW!

Go to Wikipedia and get some background on e cigarettes, and you will see that it is a relatively new industry and, while its intentions are excellent (the Chinese doctor that invented e cigs was motivated by the fact that his father died of lung cancer, caused by smoking), there is still considerable room for abuse. Due to the fact that the product was originally invented and produced in China, the FDA has been reluctant to put their stamp of approval on the whole concept, being somewhat hesitant and reticent to conclude that e cigarettes are not harmful. Now get this… there has been ZERO PROOF that e cigarettes are harmful and there has been very clear proof that smoking tobacco cigarettes are clearly and absolutely harmful, but the FDA apparently is completely OK with the production and consumption of traditional tobacco which will easily and readily kill at least 25% of their clientele (along with their bystander friends), and just as readily screw up the health of the remaining 75%, all in the name of the freedom of individuals to smoke and “enjoy the flavor” of inhaling a burning weeds (which has been soaked in a deadly cocktail of chemicals to “enhance” that nicotine punch… but, shhhh, that is a proprietary secret formula!).

Let’s break this down. Smokers will fidget and slip and slide when asked why they smoke. I know, I smoked and made ridiculous excuses for over 40 years. But it comes down to either liking the flavor, enjoying the process (i.e., habit) of smoking, admitting to wanting to feed the nicotine crave (which is so much easier to kick than any smoker believes), or some other nonsensical and rather vapid reason that makes you wonder why anyone in this day and age would spend $8 for a pack of smokes and then have to find acceptable areas in which to smoke and choke on them. And then they stink afterwards.

With an e cigarette, you can select from a smorgasbord of flavors, so the flavor reason is answered. These e cigs look and act like cigarettes (the battery even lights up an LED end-piece that emulates the burning cherry of a real cigarette), and produce plumes of vapor that look amazingly like smoke, except it is vapor and rapidly disappears and does not cling to the skin, hair and clothing of the user and his or her companions, or into the fabric and walls of the area in which you are vaporizing, so the process of smoking is also adequately dealt with. And since you can choose your own nicotine levels, you have the addiction element perfectly covered as well. And if you want to go down the road of “being different” by smoking, you can be even more different by using an e cig than by smoking, coughing, hacking and wheezing while ducking the clean air freaks that abound in today’s culture. And unless you prefer to pay much more money and create a higher chance of a smoking-related illness, the e cigarettes also slap those arguments down. I have met enough smokers over the years to know that plenty of them would pay more than they are paying for cigarettes if they could really and truly be freed from their addiction.

The big question then again comes down to what exactly are you pulling down into your lungs with an e cig? E cigs are actually broken into two components: the delivery system and the stuff it is delivering. Many e cigarettes delivery systems are manufactured to last for a long time and they are comprised of some simple basic parts (as shown in the image above). The e liquids (the stuff that is vaporized in the e cig systems) commonly contains water and flavorings in a propylene glycol (propylene glycol, the current dominating liquid base, has been utilized in asthma inhalers and nebulizers since the 1950s, and because of its water-retaining properties, is the compound of choice for delivering atomized medication), vegetable glycerin or polyethylene glycol 400 base; all three are common food additives used in a variety of pharmaceutical formulations, so even if you haven’t heard of them, you have probably safely used them before.

Back in 2009, the FDA analyzed an e liquid that is manufactured in China and they discovered it contained diethylene glycol (a chemical used in antifreeze that is toxic to humans), and in several other samples, the FDA analysis detected carcinogens, including nitrosamines. American manufacturers claim to use only high-quality food products, so even if US-made e liquids are more expensive, they may be worth the purchase as opposed to buying cheaper foreign-made e liquids. So it does pay to do your homework, but since most smokers prefer the head-in-the-sand approach (seriously, why do homework on smoking cigarettes when the results have been screaming at you for decades?), this may be more of an effort than one might expect.

However, many institutes and health organizations have given e cigs a thumbs up over traditional unhealthy smoking, so if you are a smoker and want to give quitting another whirl (or your first whirl if you haven’t yet tried and failed), I think it is worth a shot. You get the action, taste and nicotine most smokers think that they cannot go without while avoiding smoking. You can also consult Wikipedia’s article on e cigarettes to get more specific information of research and studies performed, along with current laws around the world concerning the use of e cigarettes.

On the down-side (and belonging in the whacky news section), there is a disturbing article about an e cig exploding in the mouth of a user, knocking out his teeth and part of his tongue and setting his room on fire. The details remain fuzzy (no one can even tell what brand of e cig he was using?!?), but in the world of Darwin awards, this looks like a contender! For what it’s worth, on the very same page as the article are also teaser headlines for the following shock stories: “Glass Table Explodes During Family Meal” and “Exploding Phone Causes Bloody Ear?” Do you sense a trend?