E-cigs May not be the “Safe” Alternative After All—Restrictions on E-cigs Must be Put Into Place.

abstract smokeAt the mall, at school, and practically anywhere and everywhere, we all have experienced the sweet smelling aroma from the exhaled vapors of electronic cigarette (e-cig) users. Invented in 2003 by a smoker himself, Hon Lik of Beijing China, developed the e-cig as an alterative medium for smokers who were addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, but were conscious about the carcinogenic (cancer causing) properties in tobacco cigarettes (t-cigs). The causation of Lik’s e-cig invention—the “safer” alternative to the conventional method of smoking t-cigs—was his fathers’ death from t-cig induced lung cancer. Though the invention of the e-cig was in 2003, the introduction of e-cigs to the American market was not until 2006. In just a little over half a decade since its arrival to the American market, as of last year (2013), the e-cig industry has now, officially, surpassed the one billion dollar per year business. Within the next decade, the e-cig business is projected to potentially have the ability to surpass the current consumption rates of t-cigs. Lately, I could not help but notice the e-cig industry grow; e-cigs have found its way into the hands of my friends and acquaintances. This is worrying because, early last year, my aunt was diagnosed with stage 3B lung cancer. Though my aunt smoked t-cigs instead of e-cigs, the resemblance of my friends’ “vaping” (the terminology that replaces “smoking”, which is used for t-cigs) e-cigs is also uneasy to digest. The sight of my friends shaving their lives away is unbearable to watch.

Recently, the potential ban/regulation on selling and marketing e-cigs toward children by the federal government has become an issue of immense debate. Two senior congressional Democrats, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, and House Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry A. Waxman of California, have passionately voiced to the Obama administration to regulate e-cig products the same way as t-cig products are regulated. During a conference call, Durbin indicated that both the tobacco companies and the e-cig companies have collaborative effort in marketing their product toward children, which will lure them into a nicotine addiction. Durbin said, “e-cigarettes are a candy flavored addiction, which is dangerous to our young people across America. It is growing in popularity among children and sadly poses serious public health threats”. Because currently, there are no restrictions and regulations on e-cigs, the two Democrats have urged the FDA to move quickly for the regulation and prohibition of selling e-cigs to any minors. This regulation also implements a ban on youth-oriented e-cig distribution and marketing. Though e-cig companies advertise their products to be much safer and less harmful than smoking t-cigs, a preliminary scientific research suggests otherwise. The most recent research suggests that the vapors form e-cigs mimic carcinogenic properties similar to t-cig smoke, which is a major health concern for a child’s’ safety—the vapor from e-cigs can promote lung cancer. I believe that e-cigs are detrimental to a youths’ health, and should be regulated the same way as t-cigs are in all states—you must be at least the age of 18 to purchase both e-cig and t-cigs.

The reason for the invention of e-cigs was none other than an attempt to reduce and prevent the toxicity and carcinogenicity (the level of a substance being cancer causing) found in t-cigs. This alternative medium delivers nicotine through vapors instead of smoke. Proponents for the e-cig argue, unlike t-cigs, which contains more than 7,000 chemicals (250 of them known as harmful substances), e-cigs only contain a few ingredients in the liquid solution (e-liquid), which turns into vapor upon contact with heat via electricity. The ingredients used to create the e-liquid vary from company to company, but all e-liquids contain the following ingredients: water, propylene glycol (PG) a synthetic colorless oil like liquid, vegetable glycerin (VG) a oil-like chemical found in vegetable oils like palm oil, nicotine, and flavoring. Both PG and VG are found in regular household products. PG has been used in a variety of household products, such as, animal-feed, skin-care and health products for the past 50 years. Similarly, VG has been used for, lotions, shampoo, and toothpastes. Nicotine, on the other hand, has long been established to be an addictive agent, rather than a cancer-causing substance like benzo[a]pyrene, which is a chemical found in the smoke of t-cigs. By ridding the harmful toxins and chemicals released though the 7,000 chemicals and smoke of t-cigs, the e-cig is now mistaken as the “safer” alternative for nicotine intake. Big e-cig companies, such as Volcano claim that their products do not produce or emit smoke. Therefore, many of the chemicals and carcinogens found therein are not present in the vapor that are produced, and also adds that their products are FDA approved, and are considered to be generally safe for consumption.

Currently, e-cigs are unregulated; youths are able to purchase and “vape” e-cigs (depending on the state). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of middle and high school students who use e-cigs have doubled from 2011 to 2012; from 4.1 percent to 10 percent in one year. The CDC estimated that in 2012, about 1.78 million U.S. youths had used e-cigs. Due to the lack of e-cig regulations, youths are now exposed to a product, which may increase the probability of developing cancer. Though the research is new, recently, a group of scientists lead by S. J. Park Ph.D., from the University of California, Los Angeles, examined the potential carcinogenicity of e-cigs. The research conducted by S.J. Park et al. discovered that cells grown in an environment exposed to the vapor from e-cigs show similar cancerous characteristics to those grown in an environment exposed to t-cig smoke. In other words, no matter vapor or smoke, the cells had developed similar cancerous characteristics. As mentioned by J.S. Park et al., “since nicotine is widely considered the addictive component in tobacco with limited ability to initiate cancer, e-cigs have been advertised to be a safer alternative to t-cigs. However, the toxicity and potential carcinogenicity of e-cigs have not previously been evaluated” as an experiment. Thus, an experiment to test the potential carcinogenicity of e-cigs must be tested.

The experimental model (setup) used, observed bronchial epithelial cells (cells on the surface lining your lungs) with two dysfunctional genes. One gene is important for the cell to commit suicide when it is hurt (e.g., harmful toxins and chemicals found in t-cigs), and the other is important in the growth and replication of the cell (gives a cell the key cancerous ability to grow into tumors). The two dysfunctional genes are hallmarks for cells with cancerous characteristics, which are often observed in the airway of current and former smokers at risk for lung cancer. Using these mutated cells, which not only mimic cells observed in persons at risk for lung cancer, but also helps increase the probability for cells to develop into cancerous ones; cancer is the result of more than 6 dysfunctional genes. After treating the cells (one sample with e-cig vapor, the other with t-cig smoke; both in quantities similar to the vapor/smoke inhaled by a human) for 10 days, the cells were compared and analyzed. According to the test results, after a 96-hour exposure to e-cig vapor, the cell showed 263 abnormal characteristics; 263 cancerous characteristics were now present due to the exposure to the e-cig vapor. After reviewing the data from both e-cig exposed cells and t-cig exposed cells, Avrum Spira, a researcher who works on genomics (study of DNA) and lung cancer at Boston University commented, “the changes are not identical, but there are some striking similarities”. This indicates that e-cigs may not be as safe as once presumed. Though it may be advertised to be the “safer” alternative, these results indicate that e-cig vapors also contain substances, which are capable of promoting cancer; substances, which are similar to the substances found in t-cigs.

Though e-cigs may be claimed as the “safer” alternative to t-cigs, the toxicity and potential carcinogenicity must still be considered. On paper, the ingredients used to make the e-liquid seem to be the significantly safer and friendlier option to our health than the 7,000 chemicals found in t-cigs, but we must not forget that there is still a lack in research to disprove or prove any health related claims. With that said, there are new results, for example, the studies presented by J.S. Park et al., which suggests that the vapor from e-cigs can still promote cells to have similar features to a cell exposed to t-cig (a cell, which has become cancerous). With such evidence at disposal, I believe that the FDA must act with a sense of urgency to at least put an age restriction on the purchase and use of the e-cigs—regulate the e-cig under the same regulations as the t-cig.


One Comment to “E-cigs May not be the “Safe” Alternative After All—Restrictions on E-cigs Must be Put Into Place.”

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