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Background:

An electronic cigarette (e-cig or e-cigarette) is a battery-powered device which simulates tobacco smoking patented in 1963 by Herbert A. Gilbert.

It generally uses a heating element known as an atomizer, that vaporizes a liquid solution. Some solutions contain a mixture of nicotine and flavorings, while others release a flavored vapor without nicotine.

Question:

Are there any health risks uniquely associated with e-cigs as compared with normal cigarettes?

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There is a really good sciam article on this in April 2014 issue. –  biogirl Apr 20 at 9:45
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2 Answers 2

Since the question is about risk specific to e-cigarette as opposed to classic cigarettes, what's left is the potential harm from the chemicals in refill-fluids (apart from nicotine): polyethylene glycol, glycerol, alcohol, linalol, flavours. You can find cytotoxicity experiments (e.g. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623812002833), that show that the most harmful components may be the flavouring compounds. Some other articles (I can't find a reference right now) point out that the moderate heating of the fluid might create harmful byproducts, differently from those in regular cigarette: acroleine, formaldehyde. The use of e-cigarette is probably too recent to have long-term studies that answer your question.

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The e-cig possess potential risks for healthy people as well as for a ill ones.

It contains nicotine which still reaches the lungs and causes its negative effects as oxidative stress.

In addition, because one can smoke e-cig anywhere there is potential risk for nicotine intoxication for smokers using e-cig nonstop.

There is a risk of paradoxical conversion from e-cigs to regular ones by teenagers/beginners because starting smoking with e-cigs can increase tolerance to nicotine and raise the need to higher concentrations of it to achieve the desired sensation of "smoking", thus the user can replace the e-cigs to regular and more toxic ones.

In Feb 2014 a special article was published

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2014 Feb;11(2):236-42. Electronic cigarettes. Potential harms and benefits. Drummond MB1, Upson D which abstract I place here -

"Use of electronic cigarettes, devices that deliver a nicotine-containing vapor, has increased rapidly across the country and globally. Perceived and marketed as a "healthier alternative" to conventional cigarettes, few data exist regarding the safety of these devices and their efficacy in harm reduction and treatment of tobacco dependence; even less is known about their overall impact on population health. This review highlights the recent data regarding electronic cigarette toxicity, impact on lung function, and efficacy in smoking reduction and cessation. Studies show that the vapor generated from electronic cigarettes has variable amounts of nicotine and potential harmful toxins, albeit at levels lower than in conventional cigarettes. The long-term carcinogenic and lung function effects of electronic cigarettes are not known. Although some data demonstrate that electronic cigarettes may be effective in reducing conventional cigarette consumption, there are no data demonstrating the efficacy of electronic cigarettes as a tool to achieve cessation. Until robust longitudinal evaluations demonstrate the safety of electronic cigarettes and efficacy in treatment of tobacco dependence, their role as a harm reduction tool is unclear."

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It must be stressed that the only consensus is that "no one knows yet" how much e-cig is more/less dangerous. You cite the risk of conversion from e-cig to real smoking. Other studies show that e-cig could help smoker temporarily or permanently quit (e.g. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460313003304). And you are right to underline that any product containing a high level of nicotine must me considered harmful a priori. –  biozic Mar 6 at 10:58
    
Please source your claims. You mention a risk of "nicotine intoxication". What's that? The nicotine high is precisely the reason why people smoke. Nicotine is not in itself particularly harmful, the dangers of smoking are primarily related to imperfect combustion and the subsequent production of CO and free radicals, not to the ingestion of nicotine as such. I have read pretty much everything published on the subject and have yet to see any evidence that e-cigs are harmful and have seen a lot of evidence that they are much safer than normal cigs. –  terdon Apr 13 at 15:28
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