Earlier this year, Allegheny County Council voted to ban the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in local restaurants, stores, schools, sports stadiums and public buildings (the same places tobacco use is banned). But what are e-cigarettes exactly? And why is their use being regulated?
E-cigarettes use a small heating coil to convert a liquid containing nicotine, flavorings and propylene glycol into an aerosol mist that is inhaled. Together with e-pens, e-pipes, e-hookah and e-cigars, these devices are known collectively as electronic nicotine delivery systems. Because e-cigarettes are not fully regulated by the government, their ingredients are not always known. But according to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, aerosol from e-cigarettes is known to contain harmful compounds like nicotine, benzene, lead, tar, formaldehyde, ultrafine particles, and diacetyl, a flavoring chemical linked to serious lung disease. When heated, chemicals like diacetyl can break down and turn into toxic compounds like formaldehyde, which is known to be a carcinogen (something that causes cancer).
A common perception of e-cigarettes is that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. More research needs to be done to determine whether this is true. Regardless, some tobacco users use them as a way to wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes. But like traditional cigarettes, research shows that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is also addictive. It can cause changes in the smokers’ brains, especially in young people, that make them more likely to become addicted. Long-term nicotine exposure also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart rate and blood pressure. Studies show that even e-cigarettes labeled as nicotine-free leave traces of nicotine in users’ blood samples.