E-cigarettes carry risks, especially around children

Guest editorial

The use of electronic cigarettes — battery-powered products that typically deliver nicotine in the form of an aerosol — is growing, even as use of other tobacco products declines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Compared to smoking traditional cigarettes, they likely are less harmful, but aren’t harm-free.

E-cigarettes don’t make smoke or vapor between puffs; however, e-cigarettes create second-hand vapor when the first-hand vapor is exhaled by the smoker. Blood testing for nicotine has proven bystanders, such as young children, near someone smoking e-cigarettes take in that second-hand vapor.

Second-hand vapor contains the same toxic chemicals as first-hand vapor. The vapor from e-cigarettes contains many unsafe things. The main ingredient in vapor liquid used in e-cigarettes is propylene glycol or glycerol. When propylene glycol is heated to a high temperature, it may form propylene oxide, which has been found to be a likely cause of cancer. Glycerol produces acrolein, a toxic chemical that is also found in cigarettes. Both propylene glycol and glycerol break down into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, two toxins known to cause cancer. Several other toxins and cancer-causing agents are present in e-cig vapor including: nitrosamines, carbonyl compounds, volatile organic compounds, phenolic compounds, and metals including lead.

E-cigarettes also release very tiny particles into the air called fine and ultrafine particles. Pollution caused by small particles is believed to be one of the most serious environmental risks to public health at this time, linked to heart and lung disease, degenerative diseases of the nervous system and poor outcomes in babies exposed before birth. Whether exposed to e-cigarettes or traditional cigarettes, the amount of ultrafine particles taken up by the body is higher the younger a person is, meaning that infants absorb the highest amount of these harmful particles. These small particles tend to settle in the deep portions of the lungs, causing inflammation, and even enter the blood stream where they can travel to other organs and cause damage. In infants and young children, these small particles are even able to pass through the olfactory nerve — the nerve in the nose that provides our sense of smell — and travel into the brain.

There is also third-hand exposure to vapor from e-cigarettes caused from nicotine and other chemicals and materials that have deposited on surfaces. People are exposed by touching these items, getting them in their mouth, or inhaling dust. In particular, nicotine is very difficult to remove from surfaces and fine particle remain on surfaces long after an e-cigarette was used.

There are other risks to children besides second-hand vapor. From 2012 to 2015, more than 1,800 calls were made to poison control in the United States regarding children under 2 years of age having exposures to e-cigarettes or e-cig liquids. The liquid used in e-cigarettes, whether it is swallowed or absorbed through the skin, can cause seizures, lactic acidosis, anoxic brain injury and death. E-cigarette devices have been found to malfunction either during or between use, causing burns to the face, hands, thigh and/or groin. Kids and teens who see parents using e-cigarettes may see it as safer and acceptable and have easier access to e-cigarettes. Unfortunately, teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes are 3.5 times more likely to start smoking cigarettes than those who haven’t used e-cigarettes.

We know that the safety of your children is very important to you. Keeping them away from e-cigarettes, e-cig liquid and second-hand vapor is an important part of keeping them healthy. If you are trying to quit smoking, there are many options available, often available by prescription, to help you quit and do not expose family members to any harm. Please contact the Michigan Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help in quitting and for more information on possible assistance.