While the debate continues about whether e-cigarettes help people quit smoking or actually serve as a gateway to starting smoking or a crutch to continuing to smoke, research is accumulating about some of the potential harms of these electronic devices. Though e-cigs don’t contain tar and many other harmful constituents of tobacco, they emit chemicals known or suspected to be dangerous. Here are the findings of some recent studies:
- Lung damage. In a study of 2,100 teenagers (11th or 12th graders) in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers found a strong link between e-cig use and bronchitis and other respiratory problems, after controlling for tobacco smoking. The FDA has banned sale of e-cigs to children under 18; last summer California raised the age to 21, the same as for tobacco products.
- Damage to gums and other oral cells. In a lab study in the Journal of Cellular Physiology, researchers found that half of cells from human gums died when exposed to e-cig vapor for just 15 minutes a day for three days. Similarly, a lab study in the journal Oncotarget found that e-cig vapor, especially when containing flavorings, produced oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage in isolated cells from healthy human mouths—effects that could lead to various oral diseases.
- Explosions. Injuries from exploding e-cigs appear to be on the rise, according to a research letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. Often serious, the injuries include flame and chemical burns along with damage from flying debris. The main culprits are overheated batteries that rupture and burst into flames or explode, damaging the hands, face, or thigh and groin area. In most cases, e-cigs explode while in use, but sometimes it happens when they are in pockets.
Also see E-Cigarettes: Too Good to Be True?