According to a Science Daily report, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) produce highly reactive molecules that are associated with cell damage and cancer. The molecules, known as free radicals, may pose a health risk to users, according to researchers at Penn State College of Medicine. Free radicals are the main source of oxidative stress from cigarette smoke and the leading cause of smoking-related cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
E-cigarettes are being marketed as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), current use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. More than 250 different brands of e-cigarettes are currently on the market.
Most e-cigarettes consist of three components, which include:
- A cartridge that holds a liquid solution containing varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals
- A vaporizer, or heating device
- A power source, which is usually a battery
Instead of delivering nicotine by burning tobacco, e-cigarettes provide it to users in the form of water vapor. In many e-cigarettes, puffing activates the battery-powered heating device, which vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge. The resulting aerosol or vapor is then inhaled – this practice is called vaping.
Are E-cigarettes Safer than Traditional Cigarettes?
While the perception is that e-cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes, there is no evidence that completely backs up this theory and little is known about the health risks of these devices. Previous studies have found low levels of aldehydes (chemical compounds that can cause oxidative stress and cell damage) in e-cigarette aerosols, tiny liquid particles suspended in a puff of air.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of illness and mortality, responsible for more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Although e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, they still contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug. Recent research suggests nicotine exposure may also prime the brain to become addicted to other substances.