The latest report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine presents a comprehensive study of effects of electronic cigarettes on humans.
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Despite the short time that e-cigarettes have been in use, over 800 studies from well known peer-reviewed journals have been included in a combination of studies or meta-analysis to assess the effects these electronic devices have had on human health.
E-cigarettes use a heating element to produce an aerosol from a liquid which is inhaled using a mouthpiece; their range is comprised of vape mods, vape tank systems and “cig-a-likes”.
The usage of these e-cigarettes is highest among the youth and reduces with age, and differs depending on demographic factors such as race, ethnicity, age and gender; males tend to use them more than females, for example.
The results obtained from the report suggest that despite their health risks, they are less harmful that traditional cigarettes. The levels of toxic substances in these cigarettes are far less compared with conventional cigarettes. However, there is evidence that these e-cigarettes contain several toxic substances that need to be taken into account.
The potential cancer-causing toxins that conventional cigarettes contain are present in very low levels or absent in these electronic devices. The report says that damaging health effects from conventional smoking can be reduced substantially if smokers switch completely to these electronic devices, and studies can attest to the success of e-cigarettes helping people to kick the habit.
In contrast, the introduction of the electronic cigarettes has increased the risk of young people taking up conventional cigarette smoking.
E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful. In some circumstances, such as their use by non-smoking adolescents and young adults, their adverse effects clearly warrant concern. In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness.”
David Eaton, Graduate School of the University of Washington, Seattle
While levels of nicotine in these devices varies depending on the type of liquid used in the tank, studies reveal that adult e-cigarette users often consume nicotine levels similar to those in conventional cigarettes.
The study found users to be dependent on e-cigarettes much the same as with conventional cigarettes, albeit at a lower level, and this varied depending on the type of device and fluid used.
The studies reveal that exposure to second hand smoke is lower with e-cigarettes compared to conventional cigarettes. However, these devices can raise the concentrations of particulate matter and nicotine when smoked in closed environments.
At present, there is no evidence that the usage of e-cigarettes can raise the risk of cancer, but long-term studies are needed to make that prediction accurately. Some animal studies however show that there is a raised risk of cancer with these devices.
No concrete evidence has been found that e-cigarette use leads to increased risk of respiratory ailments, but coughing and wheezing incidences may be higher among users and asthmatics are at risk of exacerbations or asthma attacks with usage. Fetal harm and the effects of these devices among pregnant mothers has also not been documented.
There are studies that show that usage of these e-cigarettes raises the risk of injuries and burns from explosions. The exposure to the e-liquids can also cause toxicity when coming into contact with the skin. Ingesting these liquids can be life threatening, says the report.
Due to the relatively recent emergence of these devices, the actual long-term health impact of these devices is not known. Short and long-term effects of smoking via these devices need to be studied in more detailed, long term studies, the report says.