What is it that makes electronic cigarettes safe? The answer lies in what they’re not, perhaps rather more than what they are. In a word, they are not regular, tobacco-burning cigarettes – and therein lies the key.
With no tobacco to burn, there is no smoke. And it is the smoke that is universally acknowledged to pose the major health risks to the smoker and those around him or her. Tobacco smoke has been shown to contain a whole host of carcinogens – and these, of course, can prove seriously damaging to anyone’s health and can even prove lethal.
Instead of burning tobacco to deliver a dose of nicotine to the smoker’s lungs (and a cloud of noxious fumes to anyone who happens to be nearby), electronic cigarettes atomize an inert liquid containing harmless flavorings and a similar, carefully measured dose of nicotine – or even a completely nicotine-free vapor, for those who have no craving for the drug. In this way, it is possible to enjoy the experience that smoking undoubtedly brings to many people, but without the health-damaging effects of inhaling dangerous tobacco smoke and polluting the air with equally offensive and annoying second-hand smoke.
The absence of any smoke, therefore, is the single most critical advantage of the electronic cigarette and the overriding reason for their being described as safe.
Furthermore, since there is no tobacco to be lit, there is no fire, no combustion, and no burning ember – all factors that have contributed to innumerable accidents involving fatal fires sparked by a poorly extinguished cigarette. The electronic cigarette, of course, is never going to expose you to that particular danger; in that respect, they are totally safe.
… or are they?
In this day and age, you could probably spend a lifetime in search of universal agreement on any product guaranteed to be completely, 100% safe. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that the electronic cigarette also has its detractors. Given what we’ve had to say about the safety of the e-cigarette’s water vapor – compared with the toxicity of tobacco smoke – why is that the case?
The World Health Organization, for example, scorns claims that electronic cigarettes are safe. They point to the fact that the majority of the devices still contain nicotine and, so, do nothing to wean users away from their nicotine addiction. They also cite as a particular danger the risk of the user swallowing spilt or leaking liquid nicotine while “smoking” an electronic cigarette (though is will have such a disgusting taste that the user will make sure that such accidents don’t happen on anything like a regular basis).
Some opponents also claim that there are potential health risks associated with the fluid used in the cartridges of practically all e-cigarettes and, in particular, the commonly-used chemical propylene glycol. This, say the detractors, is harmful to the health not only of the e-cigarette user, but also to those around him or her. This is a considerably more difficult objection to understand, however, since propylene glycol has been approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is an ingredient of a whole host of other products from medicines to cosmetics, other inhalants and toothpaste.
Electronic cigarettes are by no means the only product perfectly legally on sale, but which certain individuals or organizations nevertheless consider to be unsafe. It should be noted, however, that even the most vehement opponents of e-cigarettes nevertheless concede that “they are relatively much safer than traditional cigarettes”.
In deciding whether smokeless cigarettes are safe, therefore, it seems important to retain a degree of balance and perspective. Very few products on the market today could be labeled 100% safe and the e-cigarette certainly has its opponents. Even the latter, however, will reassure you that using an electronic cigarette is a lot safer than smoking the tobacco-filled variety.