Fans of classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood (or those still alive who have passed the century mark) know that once upon a time smoking cigarettes was considered “glamorous” and was encouraged by society. There were even tobacco industry shills in the medical profession who claimed that cigarettes offered health benefits.
As the general public became aware of the link between smoking and cancer during the 1960s, however, that began to change. It took another 30 years and a major lawsuit against Big Tobacco, but eventually, smoking lost its “glamour” aspect and the practice was increasingly marginalized. Unfortunately, e-cigarettes are threatening to undo decades of social progress.
Electronic cigarettes, which have become tremendously popular over the past decade or so, are perceived as “safe.” Partially due to this misconception, these devices are causing a major setback to government and health authorities' efforts to reduce the rates of smoking, particularly among young people – who are mercilessly being targeted in e-cigarette marketing.
It is “deja vu all over again.” Back in the day, tobacco companies used cartoon characters such as Joe Camel and even Fred Flintstone, or glamorous figures like the “Marlboro Man”, to appeal to a youthful demographic. Today, e-cigarette manufacturers are employing images of carefree, fashionable, attractive young people and fruit or candy-flavored “vape juices” to appeal to that same market. Aside from that, many e-cigarette users turn to their devices in situations where tobacco use is either not allowed or is not convenient.
While it is fair to say that e-cigarettes may be less harmful than tobacco, they are by no means “safe.” One of the greatest dangers of e-cigarettes is nicotine, which these devices deliver with a vengeance. Nicotine, an alkaloid stimulant derived from plants of the deadly nightshade family, is one of the most addicting substances known to science. Its effects can be devastating to young, developing bodies and brains. While nicotine by itself may not be carcinogenic, there is medical evidence indicating that the presence of nicotine in the human body may promote the growth of cancer cells.
Aside from nicotine, “vape juice” (technically known as “e-liquid”) contains numerous flavoring agents that by themselves may be relatively innocuous – but when heated, can change in unpredictable, even toxic ways.
There is also the prevalent belief – not supported by any research – that e-cigarettes can help those who are attempting to quit tobacco. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. Because of the high concentration of nicotine, e-cigarettes may actually perpetuate tobacco addiction, or lead people to smoke combustible cigarettes who may not have considered taking up the habit before.
The FDA has taken some initial steps toward e-cigarette regulation, but so far, these actions as of yet do not have the force of law. Until strong regulations are in place, the best course of action is to continue attempts to raise awareness about the health hazards of e-cigarettes.