When the first e-cigarette hit the market in 2003, smokers quickly fell in love. Rather than inhaling tobacco, smokers could easily avoid the carcinogen and instead smoke flavored liquids with nicotine added. By doing this, smokers and chewers could get their nicotine fix with what the public assumed held little to no risk. While most researchers agree that e-cigarettes are most likely less dangerous than using tobacco products, new research has come out pointing to a number of unexpected problems.
One of the most recent studies on the effects of e-cigarettes is also one of the most concerning, especially for the immunocompromised: the use of e-cigarettes can damage the cells of the immune system. Using a technique that mimics the use of e-cigarettes, otherwise known as vaping, researchers were able to determine that non-vapers' alveolar macrophages grew inflamed after exposure, along with impairing their ability to function properly. These alveolar macrophages aid in filtering out and eliminating any foreign debris, such as dust or bacteria. Without properly functioning alveolar macrophages, users of e-cigarettes may be more prone to conditions such as microbial invasions of the lower airway.
Lung damage isn't the only major body part e-cigarette users need to watch out for; within the past year, some troubling studies have been released tying vaping to cardiovascular disease, heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer. When used alone the risk of heart attack in users doubled, but when used in conjunction with cigarettes the risk grew to five times greater than the average person; additionally, some of the flavorings used in e-juice lower the levels of nitric oxide in the blood and boost inflammation, both of which are precursors to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. As if that wasn't enough, researchers from the Department of Environmental Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine have found that the use of e-cigarettes may contribute to lung and bladder cancer by increasing the likelihood of cellular mutation and significantly decreasing DNA repair activity.
One of the larger problems that many people have is that e-cigarettes still tend to use nicotine, an addictive derivative of plants such as tobacco. While the effects of nicotine may be pleasurable and calming, e-cigarette users still run the same risk that tobacco users do: not only is it incredibly hard to stop using, but studies show that those who use nicotine are also more likely to become addicted to other substances. Sometimes called a gateway drug, research spanning over 40 years agrees that nicotine is most definitely unsafe—and therefore adds some additional risks to the use of e-cigarette usage.
Despite these potential health complications, researchers do agree that e-cigarettes are still safer than the ordinary cigarette. With no tobacco and a lower concentration of the potentially hazardous chemicals found in cigarettes, those in need of nicotine run a far lower risk of health complications by switching over to e-cigarettes.
Regardless, e-cigarettes are not the safe and harmless alternative to cigarettes like many groups claim. While they may work well for some, people must be made aware of the potential health risks before starting. Though they're the healthier option for cigarette users, they're still far from healthy for the average person.