E-cigarettes: how harmful are they really?

For several years, there has been debate about whether e-cigarettes are as harmful to health as tobacco cigarettes. It’s now known that while they contain fewer critical ingredients, they pose health risks, too.

Contents at a glance

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes is the abbreviation for Electric or electronic cigarettes. They are also called vaporizers. Electric cigarettes consist of a vaporizer with a heating element, a small tank or depot with the liquid to be vaporized (liquid), a suitable battery as an energy source and a mouthpiece with a microprocessor. The composition of the liquid differs depending on the product.

Usually, the liquid contains propylene glycol and/or glycerin as the main ingredients. These serve as nebulizers and carriers for other ingredients. These include besides nicotine, various fragrances and flavors such as ethyl acetate, linalool or cinnamaldehyde, vanilla extract, menthol or malic acid. Because the use of e-cigarettes – unlike conventional tobacco cigarettes – does not produce combustion products, they are also referred to as vaporize instead of smoking.

How e-cigarettes work?

In contrast to conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes no tobacco is burned, but the liquid is heated and vaporized with the corresponding ingredients. Pulling the mouthpiece and pressing the power button at the same time – as with most e-cigarettes – activates the battery and supplies the vaporizer with power using sensors that register the negative pressure. In the vaporizer, in turn, there are small heating coils that are heated by the current. The liquid vaporizes at a temperature of 150 to 200 degrees Celsius in most devices.

Do e-cigarettes help people quit smoking??

E-cigarettes are often promoted as a smoking cessation aid. Whether they actually help smokers smoke less or give up nicotine is a matter of controversy among experts. A recent study review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a global, independent network of scientists, physicians, other health professionals, and patients, examined the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in stopping smoking in 50 studies.

Result: Smokers willing to quit succeeded slightly better with nicotine-containing e-cigarettes than with conventional nicotine replacement products or nicotine-free e-cigarettes. With the help of e-cigarettes containing nicotine, 10 out of 100 smokers quit. In contrast, 6 out of 100 did so with conventional nicotine replacement products and nicotine-free e-cigarettes. The study authors rate the significance of the results as moderate.

E-cigarettes: How harmful are they really?

How harmful are e-cigarettes?

According to current knowledge, e-cigarettes contain more legal highs than tobacco cigarettes significantly less harmful ingredients. Nevertheless, e-cigarettes may pose various health hazards, even though the longer-term effects cannot yet be conclusively assessed. This is how an aerosol is created when the liquids are heated. The fine and ultra-fine liquid particles contained in them enter the body through the respiratory tract and can damage the cardiovascular system. This also applies to nicotine-free liquids.

The frequently used Propylene glycol, a nebulizing agent, can irritate the eyes of sensitive people and cause respiratory problems. The long-term consequences have not yet been adequately studied. Some of the substances used in liquids Flavors can trigger allergies. Nicotine not only has a certain addiction potential, but also increases blood pressure, the risk of thrombosis, gastric acid production and the release of stress hormones. Another danger is accidental ingestion of liquids – especially after self-mixing. In this case, there is a risk of severe poisoning. In the U.S., illegal products have also reportedly led to deaths.

How harmful is vaporizing for the lungs?

In the U.S., after inhaling vapor from electronic cigarettes, more than 2.800 people to sometimes severe lung inflammation. Another 68 people died. Oily vitamin E acetate, which has been added to the liquid, is suspected. This substance probably accumulates in the alveoli and impedes the absorption of oxygen. In a random sample, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) tested 57 e-liquids from the German market and from online stores. However, in only one case did the scientists find very small amounts of vitamin E acetate, which are not expected to have any effect on health.

A marijuana tuber lies on a grinder - cannabis consumption is growing steadily

Is the e-cigarette carcinogenic?

The aerosol produced during heating may contain substances that are considered carcinogenic. These include, above all, formaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is considered possibly carcinogenic. Metals such as nickel, chromium and lead are also considered carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic when inhaled, and can sometimes be detected as contamination in the liquids. While the levels of pollutants in aerosol are usually much lower than those in tobacco smoke, and the harmful products of combustion are not produced. Nevertheless, overheating can produce carcinogenic compounds.

In addition potentially harmful particles are released into the air when e-cigarettes are used. Possible risks for third parties can therefore not be excluded.


Is vaporizing better than smoking?

Due to the reduced pollutant content of e-cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes are less dangerous than smoking Vaporizing may be less dangerous than smoking. This is true when used as directed. Therefore, e-cigarettes may be the lesser evil for smokers who find it difficult to go without nicotine. In addition, electric cigarettes can facilitate smoking cessation in individual cases. It should not be forgotten, however, that also the consumption of e-cigarettes is by no means harmless and can have long-term consequences for health, some of which are not yet foreseeable.

Federal Institute for Risk Assessment:

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation.

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care: E-cigarettes: tobacco alternative or quitting aid?

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