Electronic cigarettes damage others

Smoking: how harmful are e-cigarettes?

Status: 07.10.2019 2:25 p.m.
When smoking e-cigarettes, the smoker does not inhale smoke, but an aerosol.

Electronic cigarettes are considered a harmless alternative to classic tobacco cigarettes. According to a study by the University of Mainz, one in eight people in Germany has smoked an e-cigarette. There are only a few studies and no long-term observations on the health consequences of so-called vaping. The studies show that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. However, that does not mean that they are harmless. And they can lower the inhibition threshold for cigarette smoking.

USA: lung problems after vaping

Hundreds of people in the United States have been hospitalized for lung problems after vaping. Deaths have also been reported. Nobody knows exactly where the cause is. Presumably a cannabis-containing liquid - i.e. a vaporizer liquid - is responsible for what is not available in this country. Around 500 cases of lung changes are also probably not attributable to a single substance, but to an interplay of liquids and pre-existing lung disease. In Europe, there are stricter requirements and higher limit values ​​for liquids.

This is how e-cigarettes work

Flavored liquids are electrically vaporized in an e-cigarette. The devices consist of a power source (battery), an electrical heating element (nebuliser) and a cartridge for the liquid to be evaporated (liquid). So there is no smoke, but an aerosol that is inhaled.

The range of liquids is large. They are available in all flavors - from classic tobacco to strawberry and caramel to the taste of gummy bears. More than 8,000 flavors are used, very few of which have been tested for their effects in humans.

Less pollutants than in tobacco smoke

Tobacco smoke contains more than 70 different carcinogenic substances. In comparison, the aerosol of e-cigarettes actually contains far fewer pollutants, but also contains inflammatory, irritant and even carcinogenic substances. The Federal Institute for Risk Research and the German Cancer Center therefore warn against underestimating the potential dangers of e-cigarettes.

Propylene glycol can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract

The base of the liquid consists of propylene glycol, a substance that is also used as a disco or theater mist. This vapor can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract, and it is currently unclear what the consequences of long-term exposure to this substance will be.

With the steam, the finest particles get deep into the lungs and can be deposited there. Possible consequences are

  • to cough
  • Inflammation
  • decreased lung function

Researchers even found genetic changes in people's blood after vaping, even in liquids without nicotine. The gene activity was increased in areas that are responsible for inflammatory processes and the cardiovascular system. This also points to possible long-term effects such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Nicotine can be addicting

Like conventional cigarettes, the liquids can also contain nicotine, which causes physical and psychological dependence. In animal experiments, it triggers arteriosclerotic vascular changes. It has a teratogenic effect and promotes the growth of existing tumors.

Carcinogenic substances in the liquid

When the liquids are heated, the substances acetaldehyde and formaldehyde are also formed. The substances irritate the skin and mucous membranes, damage the respiratory tract and are considered carcinogenic. The amount absorbed when vaping depends primarily on usage behavior. Especially when the liquid is heated up, the doses are significantly higher than with conventional cigarettes. Using three milliliters of liquid produces around 14 milligrams of formaldehyde. According to a US study, this corresponds to about 5 to 14 times the amount that is consumed when smoking 20 tobacco cigarettes - i.e. a whole box.

Higher tension, more pollutants

With newer models of e-cigarettes, the voltage with which the ignition wire is heated can be individually adjusted. A higher voltage means a higher temperature and more steam. This releases more nicotine and more pollutants such as the carcinogenic formaldehyde.

Inflammation and contact allergies from liquids

Most of the studies focus on the effects of the liquid liquids - but not the evaporated ones. Some flavorings are known to be harmful. The sweet and butter-like diacetyl can cause severe inflammation of the respiratory tract when inhaled. Other fragrances and preservatives such as benzyl alcohol and cinnamaldehyde can cause contact allergies.

Lung disease as a result of vaping

With the vapor of the e-cigarette, the finest particles get deep into the lungs and are deposited there. The consequences can be cough, inflammation and decreased lung function. Current studies show that the inflammation in the lungs caused by vaping can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the long term - but not as bad as when smoking tobacco.

Cancer risk apparently a little lower

Those who only "vape" and do without nicotine-containing liquids currently have a lower risk of cancer than a tobacco smoker. Anyone who continues to smoke tobacco in addition to e-cigarettes has no health advantage.

E-cigarettes: A sensible option for heavy smokers

For heavy smokers, vaping e-cigarettes may be the lesser evil - despite the health risks. If you reduce the nicotine content of the liquids step by step, you may even find a way out of the addiction.

On the other hand, adolescents who have already tried an e-cigarette are twice as likely to use tobacco cigarettes later - a connection that is very worrying for addiction researchers.

More about smoking

Whether cigarette, cigar or pipe: Tobacco consumption in Germany is still high. How can you fight addiction? Information and background information on smoking at NDR.de. more

Experts on the subject

Priv.-Doz. Dr. Ute Mons, head of department
WHO Collaborating Center on Tobacco Control
German Cancer Research Center Cancer Prevention Unit
In Neuenheimer Feld 280
69120 Heidelberg

Dr. Klaas Franzen, assistant doctor
Medical Clinic III - Pulmonology
University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, Lübeck Campus
Ratzeburger Allee 160, 23538 Lübeck
(0451) 500-45003

Prof. Reiner Hanewinkel, psychologist, Institute for Therapy and Health Research
Prof. Dr. Reiner Hanewinkel, director of the institute
IFT-Nord gGmbH
Institute for Therapy and Health Research
Harmsstrasse 2
24114 Kiel
(0431) 570 29 20

Priv.-Doz. Dr. Hans F. E. Klose, chief physician
Department of Pneumology
II. Medical clinic and polyclinic
University Medical Center Hamburg Eppendorf
Martinistraße 52, 20246 Hamburg

additional Information
Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

Federal Center for Health Education

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Visit | 10/08/2019 | 8:15 pm