Are e-cigarettes as safe as they claim to be?

e-cigarette 2019

(Echo Grid, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Zineb Ajarra, a second year medical student at the faculty of medicine and pharmacy of Marrakech. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


A new safer alternative to smoking that offers the same nicotine hit, minus the deadly side effects of traditional cigarettes!  A revolutionary technology that could help millions of people quit smoking and save hundreds of thousands of lives. This is how electronic cigarettes are marketed nowadays! But, what are e-cigarettes? What are they made of? How do they function? What makes them different than traditional cigarettes? Are they really as safe as they claim to be?

An e-c cigarette in a battery operating electronic device that works by heating a cartridge liquid containing nicotine (some don’t), flavors and other chemicals into vapor.

The first commercially successful e-cigarette was created in china in 2003 by the pharmacist Hon LIK . In 2006, e-cigarettes were first introduced to Europe and then to the United States of America by 2007. It’s a very new invention. So there are no long term studies to prove whether they are safe or not. But we can already predict some of their side effects based on their chemical composition.

Electronic cigarettes are not made of tobacco and do not require a combustion reaction to deliver nicotine to the body. As a result, they do not produce smoke, carbon monoxide or tar. This is basically what makes them less harmful than regular cigarettes. However, most of them contain nicotine which can be as addictive as heroin and is known to harm teenagers’ brain development and cause premature birth or low birthweignt babies when consumed during pregnancy. In addition, e-cigarettes are loaded with hundreds of chemicals that include: glycerin which has been proven to increase lung and airway irritation at excessive exposure, Formaldehyde, a carcinogenic substance that can form if the e-liquid is under or over heated and flavoring chemicals with various toxicity levels. Also, using e-cigarettes increases the concentration of volatile organic compounds and airborne particles that are very harmful when inhaled according to The international journal of hygiene and Environmental health

E- cigarettes come in different shapes and sizes. The most recent ones are Juuls shaped like USB flashcards which make them easy to sneak into schools. Thus, extremely popular among middle school and high school students. In a study made by the American National institute of Drug Abuse, the use of e- cigarettes among kids goes from 3.6% for eight grader to 16.2% for twelve graders. When asked why  do they smoke e-cigarettes? 66 % said just for the flavor, 13.7% don’t know and 13.2%  for the nicotine. And surprisingly enough, 30.7% of them started smoking combustible tobacco products within six months.

To sum up, e-cigarettes have not been in the market for a long time to evaluate their long term health effects and a lot of users are current or ex smokers. So, it’s hard to differentiate between the side effects caused by each cigarette type separately. Yes, e-cigarettes do not smell or produce smoke but they do contain potentially harmful chemicals that may cause cancer and long lasting inflammation resulting in bronchitis, emphysema and heart disease. When it comes to smokers, e-cigarettes are less harmful then regular ones. But, their marketing policy makes them appeal to non smokers and teenagers resulting in nicotine addiction, a  high risk of switching to regular cigarettes and  side effects that have yet to be proven by long term studies.

About the author

Zineb Ajarra is a second year medical student at the faculty of medicine and pharmacy of Marrakech. She is an active member of the association of medical students of Marrakech « AEMM » since 2017 which gave her the opportunity to participate in many activities aimed to raise awareness about some public health issues and to improve the quality of our medical education system. She also writes articles in The International federation of medical students of morocco’s annual magazine « I’m spirit ». She is very passionate about scientific research, personal development and innovative ways to study efficiently. That’s why she has recently started a youtube channel where she shares study tips and experiences to help and motivate other students.

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Comments

  1. The second article on e-cigarettes in the Sting now which doesn’t give us a link to any study. Where is the article by “The international journal of hygiene and Environmental health” and the “study made by the American National institute of Drug Abuse”?
    E-liquid generally consists of propylene glycol, glycerin, water, nicotine, and flavorings. While the ingredients vary the liquid typically contains 95% propylene glycol and glycerin. E-cigarettes and fluid should never be sold to minors.

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