Remember when the electronic cigarette (e-cig) fad began? I sure do. One of my first exposures to e-cigs was in 2013 on a riverboat cruise in Stillwater for my boyfriend’s high school graduation. One of his acquaintances had an e-cig that he kept puffing on throughout the evening. His fruity emissions filled the air around us. Of course the fad began in America several years before (in 2007), but it wasn’t until 2012 that I began really noticing e-cigs…everywhere.
While strolling around in malls, meandering in grocery stores, and eating out at restaurants, I recall being extremely thrown off when I would see a cloud of smoke exit an individual’s mouth. Maybe my shock was due to the fact that the Freedom to Breathe (FTB) amendments (part of the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act [MCIAA]) became effective in 2007, which meant that we would no longer see any smoking indoors.
What am I saying? This was fine. This was safe. E-cigs aren’t really smoking—they’re just vapor. Wrong. Apparently, some U.S. municipalities are hostile toward e-cigs. Spokane County, in particular, has just recently banned the use of e-cigs in all public places, which means e-cigs and cigarettes are viewed as the same thing (the ban will become effective on July 1, 2016). Many other states and municipalities also regulate e-cig use (ecigslaws).
So, what’s the deal and why are people banning e-cigs? First off, do you really know what an e-cig is? I’m sure you do in theory, right? It’s a battery-operated cigarette that heats up a liquid containing nicotine, fruity flavoring, and other chemicals (link). The concern stems from the “other chemicals” part of e-cigs. Being so new to the U.S., not having FDA regulation or review, and having very little research behind them, e-cigs are an enigma.
The little research that has been done has shown that there are toxic/cancer-causing substances in many popular e-cig “juice” brands (e.g., diethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze). There is also little information regarding the emissions or secondhand smoke effects of e-cigs. Formaldehyde and benzene, which are both carcinogens, have been found in these emissions and may pose a danger to bystanders (as well as the first-hand individual).
The fact of the matter is that due to the lack of knowledge we have about e-cigs, it would be best to avoid using them until more research is done and the public can make an informed decision about whether or not to use e-cigs.