Why Do People Use Them?
E-cigarettes have gained tremendous popularity in recent years. Popular among young adults, the e-cigarette can frequently be seen in college towns and major cities across the country. The primary and most commonly accepted use of e-cigarettes is to assist former smokers through the process of quitting. E-cigarettes can provide both the nicotine and the feel of a cigarette, without actually being a tobacco product. Many former smokers credit e-cigarettes for their success with quitting cigarettes. Some individuals simply choose to make use of e-cigarettes to “fit in” with other smokers or e-cigarette users, or to get the feel of smoking without having to take the risk of smoking an actual cigarette.
Much like the flavored shisha that is used in a hookah, e-cigarette vapor liquid comes in a wide variety of flavors, leading many people to make use of the e-cigarette just for the taste and similar feel to smoking a hookah. Another cited use of these e-cigarettes is the consumption of hash oil, which is a hyper-concentrated form of cannabis, created by separating the resin from marijuana, supposedly leading to a more extreme high.
Effects of E-Cigs
Unfortunately, due to a lack of regulation and monitoring of these devices, it is difficult to pinpoint the actual effects of these devices. Because the trend is relatively new, there has not yet been a large number of studies done on the long-term effects that these products may have on the users’ health. Many people will claim that the devices have helped them quit smoking. However, a report from the American Lung Association showed that as recent as the year 2013, as many as 76.8% of e-cigarette users were still smoking cigarettes, despite using the device in an attempt to quit. There has not been any particular proven benefit to using an e-cigarette to ease the process of quitting.
Another thing to keep in mind with these devices is that the flavoring used in many of the vapor liquids can contain any number of chemicals unknown to the user. There is no FDA regulation on what can and cannot be put into an e-cigarette’s flavoring liquids, meaning that a user will not necessarily know exactly what is going into their body with each inhalation. The chemicals in one brand’s strawberry vapor may be entirely different than the chemicals that go into another brand’s blend. There may even be a strong possibility that some of these chemicals are carcinogens, effectively eliminating the primary purpose of going smoke-free in the first place. Without knowing exactly what is going into these flavors, it can be hard to pinpoint what adverse health effects may stem from them.
While many of the internal and long-term health effects for these products are currently shrouded in mystery, and will likely need more time for research, there have been a large number of documented incidents of a particular type of external hazard: burns. Across the country, and even overseas, the public has seen reports coming in of e-cigarettes exploding, catching on fire, or in some way causing burn injuries to the user. These incidents seem to come out of nowhere, and many have resulted in hospitalization for severe burns.
Common Causes of E-Cigarette Related Injuries
Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes require no open flame, so at first glance, there seems to be little risk of fire or burn. However, e-cigarettes still have specific components which can malfunction, resulting in burn injuries. News reports have pinpointed causes, but unfortunately, these usually come after an injury; consumers are not receiving proper warnings as to what may trigger an e-cigarette burn. Here are some common things that may cause an e-cigarette disaster:
Lithium Ion Batteries
The most common identifiable cause of severe burn injury to vape users is the battery. E-cigarettes make use of a lithium-ion battery to power the device. This battery is the same kind we use in our phone, tablets, and laptops. However, those batteries are under rigorous design, testing, and manufacturing constraints. Lithium-ion batteries for e-cigarettes are under no such constraints. In fact, many e-cigarette devices are just a hodgepodge of cheaply manufactured and poorly regulated parts shipped from all over the world and mashed together. What does this mean for the consumer? They get an inexpensive product that seems to work just fine, but is actually likely to malfunction at a moment’s notice.
Lithium-ion batteries are typically not dangerous in many products we use on a daily basis. Again, however, before they hit store shelves, most of these products have gone under extreme scrutiny; this is not always the case for e-cigarettes. With the increase in popularity of these devices, the batteries that power them are in high demand. E-cigarette shops, convenience stores, even gas stations will typically offer cheap rechargeable batteries for vape enthusiasts to power their devices. Many of these batteries will overheat or catch fire with just a short period of exposure to another metal, such as keys or coins in one’s pocket. Some of them are likely to overheat and explode while charging, which can cause the fire to spread to nearby objects in the room, or even worse, a moving vehicle. In a study done by FEMA, 80% of reported incidents occurred during the charging period.
A common practice in the vape community is to modify the devices to suit personal preferences. This process is not necessarily promoted by vape retailers or vape manufacturers, though there is no real education for the user regarding what the effects of modification may be on the device.
This practice can be incredibly dangerous, and the results of modification gone wrong can be devastating. Many vape modifiers like to make the heating element reach higher temperatures. This allows more vapor to be created, leading to a larger vapor cloud, which is often desirable for those who engage in vaping for visual aesthetic. What it also allows for is the potential for the e-cigarette to cause injury or harm to the user. Since the market for these devices is vastly unregulated, there is no standard of direction on how, or even if, these devices should be modified.
There are also some potential hazards with e-cigarettes that don’t have very many cited cases, yet precaution should still be taken nonetheless. These hazards include: