By: Nicholas King.
We’ve all heard the facts about tobacco usage, thanks to an expensive, exhaustive, and long-running campaign to educate the people. Those facts have included a great deal of information about the harmful effects of second-hand smoke – facts that have served as a rallying cry over the last several decades as localities have enacted ever more restrictive policies governing where smokers are allowed to smoke their tobacco cigarettes. Now, many of those same arguments are being used by those who want to kill the electronic cigarette industry in its infancy.
There’s one question that many people never stop to consider, however:
Is second hand vapor bad for you?
To answer that question, it is first necessary to understand why it is even being asked. The fact is that studies have indicated that second-hand tobacco smoke is potentially harmful. The smoke and trace chemicals it carries with it can cause respiratory problems and other health complications when breathed in by those in the vicinity of the smoker. That conclusion is at the heart of most tobacco control laws and used to justify restrictions on a venue. After all, if second-hand smoke can harm others, then it is within the government’s power to try to regulate smoking to protect the public.
In this case, however, smoke is being compared to vapor. Now, the difference between smoke and vapor might not seem like much of a distinction at first glance, but it is important to understand just how much these two byproducts actually differ from one another. The vapor from e-cigarettes is, after all, vapor. It is not smoke. It is not the byproduct of burning tobacco since there is no tobacco in electronic cigarettes.
So, what is all the negative hype really about? Well, much of the argument in favor of viewing e-cigarette vapor as harmful has focused on questionable studies and worries about unknown potential hazards. Here are just a few examples of that line of argument:
- A John Hopkins Bloomberg School study concluded that e-cigarette vapor exposure could compromise the immune system, and introduce harmful chemicals into the body. Those findings were based on a study that involved placing mice inside a chamber filled with e-cigarette vapor in amounts equal to what a human would inhale in about two weeks worth of vaping. The mice demonstrated compromised immune reactions when they were later exposed to infection.
- The French National Consumer’s Institute also did a study to identify potential toxins in e-cig vapor and discovered formaldehyde and several other carcinogenic compounds. To achieve those results, however, they heated the e-liquid at what most analysts consider inappropriately high temperatures – well beyond the normal recommended operating parameters for electronic cigarettes.
- The American Lung Association actually argues that the real problem is that there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating that there is no potential harm from these vapors. As a result, that organization is advocating that e-cigarettes be treated in the same manner as tobacco products for regulatory purposes.
The facts tell a different story, however. In reviewing all of the available studies and literature based on that research, Philadelphia’s Drexel University School of Public Health came to the conclusion that this vapor poses no real threat to bystanders. That may or not be completely true, but there is good cause to question the validity of each of the aforementioned studies – which is precisely what many experts have done.
In yet another published study that appeared in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research journal, researchers examined the effects of e-cig vapor and concluded that there appear to be no serious risks. While there may be second-hand exposure to minute traces of nicotine, there is no evidence that these amounts are sufficiently high to pose any serious threat to health. That study also found that there was no danger that users would be exposed to the types of toxins produced by combustible tobacco products.
Beyond that, however, there is evidence that e-cigarettes are all but harmless even for the people who use them. Though there are all sorts of official warnings about how dangerous these products might be for vapers, there is no actual evidence to suggest that any such harm exists. And if these products are safe for the people directly using them, it is difficult to argue that they could pose any serious risk of harm to others.
Of course, none of this evidence will inhibit government officials and various special interest groups from continuing to disparage these products or those who use them. Those who seek greater control over electronic cigarettes do so not as the result of real evidence of their harmful effects, but in spite of a lack of such evidence. Unfortunately, the voices of opposition have the type of platform that enables them to drown out the good science that suggests that there is no real danger from second-hand e-cigarette vapor.