Electronic cigarettes are intended to be a less-toxic, safer option to smoking regular cigarettes, but not a treatment to quit smoking. A Chinese pharmacist invented the e-cigarette in 2003 with a patented ultrasonic technology, because his father was dying from lung cancer. Most e-cigarettes manufactured today use a heating element to vaporize the nicotine liquid instead.
Its well documented that currently available “approved” nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches and gums, are largely ineffective, with an over 90% failure rate after 1 year. This is mostly due to the fact that smokers aren’t just hooked on nicotine; they are addicted to the ritual of smoking a cigarette: The anticipation of the cigarette, the lighting, that first drag. It is a comfort system for us that is even stronger than the nicotine addiction. The greatest danger in cigarette smoking is not nicotine.
Nicotine, while highly addictive, is a stimulant similar to caffeine.
Nicotine is not toxic in low, intermittent doses, which is why it can be used in nicotine replacement therapies.
Nicotine, by itself, does NOT cause cancer, but is known to have some side effects.
Cigarette smoke, on the other hand, contains more than just nicotine. It contains hundreds of toxic chemicals and dozens of known carcinogens. The inventor believed that there could be options for smokers, to still have the act of smoking, while limiting exposure to the chemicals, toxins and carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. He had to have known that the smoker would still need relief from the nicotine addiction, so to get them to switch to the less toxic electronic cigarettes; he had to include doses of nicotine. The typical e-liquid contains propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, food-grade flavorings and nicotine.
Read more: Nicotine Side Effects (Drugs.com)
Nicotine level or Strength
Nicotine level or Strength in e-juice is expressed in 1 of 2 ways: milligrams per milliliter, or percentage. They look different, but mean the same thing. For example, if you have a bottle of 20mg/mL strength juice and want to know how a bottle of 2.4% strength juice compares, simply divide the mg/mL number by 10 for the percentage (2%) or multiply the percentage number by 10 to yield the mg/mL (24). In general, we recommend 18mg/mL as a starting point for smokers that use approximately 1 pack per day.
Propylene glycol is commonly referred to in the media in connection to e-cigarettes as “anti-freeze.” Anti-freeze is actually most commonly made with ethylene glycol, which is a deadly toxin. While propylene glycol can be found in some antifreeze, it is actually added to it to make it LESS toxic.
“Antifreeze typically contains ethylene glycol as its active ingredient, but some manufacturers market propylene glycol-based antifreeze, which is less toxic to humans and pets. The acute, or short-term, toxicity of propylene glycol, especially in humans, is substantially lower than that of ethylene glycol.”
Propylene glycol is actually approved for human consumption by the FDA and approved for human inhalation by the EPA. It is a common ingredient in many foods and medicines, such as McCormick (and other brand) imitation food flavoring, toothpaste, cough syrup, hand sanitizer, lotions, cosmetics and more.
Read more: Propylene Glycol (Wikipedia)
Tobacco-specific Nitrosamines and the Diacetyl scare
The FDA tested some samples of electronic cigarette cartridges in 2009. Their analysis found “tobacco-specific Nitrosamines” in the samples tested. These nitrosamines are created during the curing and processing of tobacco and would be expected to be found, in trace amounts, in nicotine extracted from processed tobacco. In tobacco smoke, they are found in high concentration and are a leading cause of tobacco-related cancers. These carcinogens were found in much smaller amounts in the electronic cigarette liquid and are found in other tobacco and nicotine products, including chew, snuff, patches, gum and inhalers. A study at Oxford concluded that the highest levels of these nitrosamines are found in the reaction of tobacco smoke and minimal in NRTs. Levels of nitrosamines found in electronic cigarettes are at or below those found in NRTs, which are in turn lower than the levels found in cigarettes. While the FDA “detected” nitrosamines, simple detection does not automatically mean “cancer causing levels” of a carcinogen.
Likewise, recently a large amount of bad press against e-cigs has occurred around the flavoring compounds that contain diacetyls, the claim being that e-cigs "will" (not "have") cause popcorn lung. In rare instances, bronchiolitis obliterans, AKA popcorn lung, may be caused by inhalation of airborne diacetyl, a chemical used to produce the artificial butter flavoring in many foods such as candy and microwave popcorn and occurring naturally in wines. This first came to public attention when eight former employees of the Gilster-Mary Lee popcorn plant in Jasper, Missouri, developed bronchiolitis obliterans. In 2000, the Missouri Department of Health called in NIOSH to make a determination of the cause, and to recommend safety measures. After surveying the plant and each patient's medical history, NIOSH recommended respiratory protection for all workers in microwave popcorn production.
What none of the recent media hype tells you: Diacetyls are in cigarettes. Dr. Michael Siegel, a Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, in reviewing various studies, found “daily exposure to diacetyl from smoking is therefore 750 times higher, on average than exposure to diacetyl from vaping.” Vapers are, on average, exposed to a daily dose of nine micrograms of diacetyl, compared with 6,718 micrograms for smokers.
To sum up, e-cigarettes use e-liquid to make the vapor. This liquid is made from food safe ingredients and pharmaceutical-grade nicotine. While there is not yet an abundance of studies regarding e-cigarette use itself, there are a wealth of studies regarding the ingredients contained in e-liquid that show no toxicity in humans at the levels used in e-liquid. Ultimately, only you can decide if e-cigarettes are for you, however they are at least safer than regular cigarettes.