Home Vaping Health Evidence E-Cigarettes: Myth Vs. Reality, A Comprehensive List

E-Cigarettes: Myth Vs. Reality, A Comprehensive List



E-cigarettes have been a subject of much controversy of late.  First, they were a great way to quit smoking, then they were going to kill you with poisonous, antifreeze chemicals, then they were a harm reduction technology, then they targeted your children via some evil plot to addict your 4-year-old to nicotine, then they… well, you get the picture.  This topic, more than almost any other topic to grace the front-page headlines over the past 20-or-more years, is fraught with misinformation, disinformation, and dirty politics.  The anti-smoking community has taken on a life of its own over the past half-century and is now almost unrecognisable from the well-intentioned, fact-based institution it once was.  Nowadays, it seems more concerned with self-preservation in the business sense of the phrase than with actually fighting the health hazards associated with the tobacco industry.  So, in an effort to separate fact from fiction, here is a list of ALL of those so-called “facts” you’ve seen published all over the Internet and print-media:

-E-cigarettes contain the same toxic chemicals found in antifreeze:  Actually, the toxic chemical to which they are referring is ethylene glycol.  Polyethylene glycol used to be utilized in the manufacturing of some of the nicotine liquid found in E-cigarettes.  The word ‘polyethylene’ might sound similar to the word ‘ethylene,’ but polyethylene glycol is actually not dangerous to humans in the least.  Propylene glycol, which is now used in place of polyethylene glycol, works better and is actually much less dangerous than the already non-dangerous polyethylene glycol.  In fact, it’s been lauded by the FDA and many other organizations as one of the safest chemicals on the market.

-E-cigarettes still deliver nicotine, an addictive and dangerous carcinogen:  This could hardly be further from the Truth.  Nicotine is not now, nor has it ever been a carcinogen.  It’s association with tobacco and the many carcinogens contained therein has given rise to the myth that nicotine causes cancer, but nicotine, by itself, actually promotes health.  It has been shown to assist in synapse operations in the brain, thereby increasing our memory potential and other thought processes.  It has also never been proven that nicotine, by itself, is the highly addictive substance we have always assumed it is.

-E-cigarette vapor exposes other people to dangerous chemicals through second-hand inhalation:  Again, there are no “dangerous chemicals” in E-cig vapor.  All (I repeat ALL) studies of E-cigarette vapor, fumes, etc. have shown that the amounts of chemicals present in exhaled and sidestream vapors themselves are so low, they are hardly even measurable.  Additionally, vaporized glycerine/glycol is slightly heavier than tobacco smoke, and therefore does not remain airborne nearly as long as does the product of tobacco combustion.  The vapor also dissipates much faster than smoke.  So, with all of these facts, the threat of any E-cigarette vapor affecting anything around anyone who is actively vaping, even in an enclosed, crowded place, is nil.

-There haven’t been any serious studies about E-cigarettes yet:  E-cigarettes have been studied for over ten years now, and extensively over the last five years or so.  These studies have been done by reputable scientific organizations and have been done according to the strict standards of modern scientific experimentation guidelines.  There have actually been so many studies done on E-cigarettes, that it would be impossible to list them all here.  Suffice it to say, there have been more than a sufficient number of scientific studies perpetrated on E-cigarettes to avoid any accusations like this one.  The problem isn’t that there haven’t been enough studies, the problem is that none of these studies have succeeded in showing anything negative about E-cigarettes.  Those who throw around this statement are the same who have an interest in derailing the E-cig industry in favor of other, vested interests.  Their best attempts involve statistical manipulation like stating that “Dangerous Chemical X is present in E-cigarettes, and has been known to kill people.”  When in reality, that “dangerous chemical” is present at 5% of a concentration that would begin to present a health risk.

-E-cigarettes keep people addicted to cigarettes:  Well, the actual addictive qualities of nicotine are unknown… so this statement is founded on an unknown premise.  However, the premise is immaterial to this topic, because E-cigarettes actually do the exact opposite of “keeping people addicted to cigarettes.”  The long and cylindrical shape of an E-cigarette device, and the fact that there is nicotine involved, are the only things that this technology has in common with tobacco cigarettes.  There are literally hundreds of thousands (if not more) testimonials from people who have successfully used E-cigs as smoking cessation devices.  This statement in just as ridiculous as saying that nicotine lozenges keep people addicted to cigarettes.  Obviously there will be those who try E-cigs and return to traditional smoking.  Just as there are those who chew nicotine gum and return to smoking.  We don’t blame the gum, we blame the person’s lack of adequate resolve.

-The fact that this industry is not regulated means that we have no idea what is being put into our E-cigarettes:  Actually, the E-cigarette industry has been doing just fine regulating itself.  It has successfully governed itself with its own series of regulations implemented by universally accepted standards organizations.  AEMSA (the American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association) and CASAA (the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association) have both done an excellent job of governing the industry without unnecessary government intervention.  Also, I have yet to come across an E-juice manufacturer that does not fully disclose all ingredients used in their production process… so obviously, we do know exactly what’s being put into our E-cigarettes.

-Regulation of the E-cigarette industry is necessary to prevent children from buying nicotine products:  I challenge anyone to find an E-cigarette store (or any business that offers E-cigs for sale in any way) that actually allows children under the age of 18 (or 21 in some states) to purchase E-cigarette liquids or devices.  Or, I could just save you the trouble of searching and using up about ten thousand gallons of gasoline by telling you that your search will be fruitless.  If teenagers are buying E-cigarettes, they are buying them the same way they’ve bought tobacco products for decades; fake ID, older siblings/parents, friends with store employees, paying someone to buy the cigarettes for them, or (in my case) tricking the proprietor of a cigar shop into thinking you’re a tried and true cigar connoisseur so they never think to ask you for an ID.  My point is that no measure, short of imprisoning all teenagers in death… er, I mean work camps…, will prevent them from finding ways of breaking the rules.  And since all E-cig retailers are already preventing kids from buying their products, regulation becomes at worst a redundancy and at best a moot point.

-The exotic flavor offerings of E-cigarette liquids are designed to target children and get them to start smoking:  There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to know where to begin.  First, the prospect of E-cigarettes being designed to somehow sucker kids into smoking is about as asinine as suggesting that flavored fruit chewing gums are designed to trick kids into drinking alcoholic cocktails.  Second, from a business aspect, would it make more sense to target a segment of society that is prohibited from using your product?  Or would it be smarter to target individuals who have developed a need for an effective smoking cessation avenue over long years of tobacco smoking?  Lastly, a person’s tastes increase in scope as they age.  They do not narrow as this statement would suggest.  Kids and teenagers generally have a small number of foods and flavors that they adhere to like super glue.  It isn’t until we age that we begin to broaden our culinary horizons.  With this in mind, it doesn’t make any sense to suggest that the availability of many flavors is designed to target children, when in reality it is designed to appeal to the wide palatal range of adults, whose tastes are as vast as the ocean.  As an addendum to this topic, I’d like to suggest (in the spirit of fairness) that if E-cigarette flavors are banned “for the sake of the children” we should obviously also ban all flavored liquors, vodkas, rums, hard lemonades, malt beverages, cocktail recipes, etc.

-Dripping style atomizers cause E-cigarette vapor to turn into formaldehyde:  There is actually no evidence of this ever having happened.  References to this supposed “research” are circular, and only refer to other news articles which refer to other news articles and so on, but never back to an originating study or peer-reviewed journal of any sort.  Chemically speaking, for glycerine and glycol to somehow magically change into formaldehyde would be just as likely as a block of cheddar cheese suddenly turning into a Ferrari via the wave of a magic wand and the utterance of the correct Voodoo spell.  And even if there are cases where one, individual E-cigarette or one, individual bottle of E-juice somehow produced traces of formaldehyde there are two things that must be kept in mind:  1. There have been cases when toxic chemicals have been found in supermarket beef or chicken.  These are mistakes and might possibly be grounds for a recall, but not a banning of all cows and chickens.  2. These “traces” of formaldehyde (assuming for the sake of argument that they exist) must still be compared with the known toxic levels of formaldehyde exposure for humans.  We’re actually exposed to formaldehyde all the time, but in such small quantities that our bodies very naturally metabolise said amounts and remain unharmed.

-E-cigarettes are a “gateway” to traditional, tobacco cigarette smoking:  Here is another statement that is actually the exact opposite of the truth.  E-cigarettes are no more a gateway to tobacco use than Naloxone is to heroine.  E-cigarettes are a “gateway” to healthy living without tobacco dependency, not a “gateway” to the exact addiction that people are attempting to escape with the help of E-cigarette technology.  The term “gateway” gets thrown around a lot these days without any real attention being paid to what it actually means.  The term is actually just a metaphor used for dramatic effect, and has no set-in-stone definition for scientific purposes.  I could just as easily say that Ford Mustangs are a “gateway” to motor vehicle collisions, or that living in the South is a “gateway” to racism.  These are meaningless statements using a word that is meant to draw shaky, unfounded conclusions based upon fallacious arguments.

-E-cigarettes have been known to explode while being used:  My apologies to whomever blew their face off with an E-cigarette, but one solitary incident does not an argument make.  E-cigarettes have batteries.  Batteries, no matter what type, under the right (and extremely rare) circumstances can explode or melt down.  Cell phones have the same kind of lithium batteries as you’ll find in E-cigarettes, and we hold cell phones up to our heads and faces probably much more frequently than we take a drag off of our E-cigarette.  The majority of these supposed explosion “cases” into which I’ve looked actually involved carelessness on the part of the user, not equipment that was so horrifically defective, that it suddenly just exploded for no reason.  Many people charge their E-cigs on the kitchen counter, where water has a habit of accumulating thanks to the close vicinity of the kitchen sink.  Others leave their E-cigs in a 180 degree car, sitting in direct sunlight for hours and hours during the summer months.  An accident is an accident, and they are occasionally tragic… but they are not necessarily cause for legislation unless the number of occurrences warrants concern.  Cars, airplanes, cell phones, toasters, lawn mowers, computers, windows… all of these things are involved in accidents from time to time.  Do we ban them all, or do we accept the imperfect nature of life and try to avoid danger as much as possible without locking ourselves in padded rooms so we can protect ourselves from absolutely every single potential threat in the world?

-E-cigarettes are even more expensive than regular, tobacco cigs:  I’m actually not even going to dignify this one with comment.  Sorry, but if you buy into this particular statement, no amount of logical reasoning is going to affect you at all.

Unfortunately, no amount of reasoning and/or logical, scientific proof will deter the anti-vaping elements of society from their crusade against E-cigarettes.  The reasons for this are disturbing, and I’ll only briefly touch on them here.  (These subjects are covered more completely (and sourced/cited) in others of my blog posts.)  Many anti-vaping organizations are heavily vested in pharmaceutical ventures which stand to continue raking in profits from products like Nicorette, Chantix, Wellbutrin, etc, if the more effective E-cigarette industry is buried under bans and unreasonable regulations.  Others are hell-bent on bringing absolutely everything under strict government regulatory control because of extremist political ideologies.  Still others are so opposed to tobacco products, that their hatred blinds them to evident truths simply because of the fact that vaping “kinda looks like” smoking.  Government agencies have only become interested in the regulation of E-cigarettes since the industry became a multi-billion dollar pile of potential tax revenue.  And lastly, there are those who are simply opposed to E-cigarettes because of the material they’ve read/heard from all of the previously mentioned groups.  Not everyone will agree with all of the reasons I’ve just listed, and that’s OK.  I only mention them in passing and am not currently interested in offering proof on their behalf (that’s for other articles).  The purpose of this blog post is to debunk myths about E-cigarettes themselves, not to throw blame at the potential sources of those myths.

If you have an interest in E-cigarettes, either on your behalf or on behalf of a loved one, please take the time to consider that all of the frightening headlines floating around the Internet and news media concerning E-cigs might be just that… frightening words aimed at striking fear into the hearts of the unsuspecting.  I implore everyone to do research, and to be sceptical of news stories in general until you take the time to look into the subject yourself in order to make an informed decision, not one based on panic and dramatic presentation.  Renowned philosopher, Rene Descartes, practised what he referred to as “methodic doubt,” which essentially meant that he would systematically doubt everything until he could prove to himself what was Truth and what was falsehood.  This goes for everything you might come across, not just E-cigarettes.  We unfortunately live in a world where we need to be sceptical of everything around us, because there are too many conflicting interests and ulterior motives.  However, we fortunately have in this same world a means to access almost all human knowledge throughout history with the touch of a few buttons and a thirst for learning.  Take advantage of our gifts and blessings, before those gifts and blessings get regulated and banned as well!

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  1. Very thorough treatment of the issues. The only problem in the article is the details of formaldehyde. Yes, it is in eliquid. Those testing their products generally measure the amounts of formaldehyde present and check it against normal, expected levels.

    The human body produces formaldehyde. Every time you exhale, it’s there in your breath. It’s in the air, many foods, the atmosphere, in compounds we encounter every day. It occurs naturally and can be harnessed as an additive for industrial uses. Should one try to escape formaldehyde they might consider leaving earth – but that would be fruitless cause guess what’s in space? Yes, formaldehyde.

    The FDA even published a statement on a study to clarify that formaldahyde in infant vaccines poses no risk to said infant. http://www.fda.gov/biologicsbloodvaccines/scienceresearch/ucm349473.htm

    So why the hype over formaldehyde? Like with everything, the dose makes the poison. High levels of formaldehyde indicate a problem… but tests on eliquids are not finding high levels. They are finding expected levels that are lower, by miles, than even infant vaccines.

      • The levels the industry has set here in Canada are to be below 60 ug/ml. I haven’t seen a test that even registers close to that. Infant vaccines show 200 ug/ml. I believe AEMSA in the US is also testing for this (but do check with them to confirm). If so, as they are utilizing the same testing lab – I would assume the same or similar levels are set.

        • So, apparently, you haven’t read any of the articles or source materials supporting E-cigarette Harm-Reduction Technology. You’ve just decided to help spread fear shamelessly after reading some ridiculous fear-peddling article on Gizmodo or wherever about how some E-cigarettes contain… oh, let me see… what was it this week?… Ah, yes, trace amounts of depleted uranium (or something along those lines). And you’re accusing me of being the irresponsible one? If you’re going to refute an argument, try having a counter-argument or just hold your tongue for a change. Imagine that legislation gives way to your baseless fears, and they make E-cigarettes illegal. I could turn to you and using your own gramatically atrocious wording I could say, “but you just wait I bett all the people get cancer [from not having a healthier alternative to tobacco smoking].”

  2. I repair and build custom electronic devices as a long time hobby. When my e-cigg finally died, naturally I took it apart to see what was inside and how they worked. At the time(2012), I was blown away by the lack of a battery protection circuit. Most places selling batteries refuse to sell them without it as a cheap charger or overuse could cause the battery to fail horribly. It seemed to be a space constraint issue. This circuitry is in cell phones and all other legitimate devices that I have disassembled. It may be remedied by now though… Just my 2 cents

  3. “I challenge anyone to find an E-cigarette store (or any business that offers E-cigs for sale in any way) that actually allows children under the age of 18 (or 21 in some states) to purchase E-cigarette liquids or devices.”

    Boy, I wish that were true. Even many reputable B&M stores don’t bother, much less online shopping. That is a major gap in the self-regulation right now.
    When was the last time you had to prove your age to a vendor? I am clearly in my 30s and I get carded for beer WAY more often than ecigs. (About 10% of the time for beer, literally 0% for vape gear, over 16 months and more than 100 transactions.)

    • Dis, I kinda think that depends on where you live and more importantly, what kind of shops you go to. Those sketchy little shops in weird places that sell ego’s and unnamed juice might not check ID’s but all of the upscale shops I frequent in my area, the ones that have people who understand what they are talking about, all ID if you look like you are under 18… even though they don’t have to. The one I go to most often they do not card me anymore (I am 22 but look younger) because they know me.

      So yes, no everyone cards but I think most reputable B&M’s will card people because they have that reputation of being completely above board to express. I’m glad this industry has done this good a job self-regulating.

      • True, but those “sketchy” shops don’t check IDs for cigarettes or alcohol, either, as is actually required by law. They don’t want to miss out on a sale, no matter what, so they sell to anyone who can pay for merchandise, no matter who’s paying and what is being bought. So, it’s still redundant and unnecessary to write into law something that law abiding shops are already doing, and non-law abiding shops won’t do, even if it is the law.

      • Unfortunately, “most” flat don’t and handwaving doesn’t make that true. I can think of 5 shops in the DC/Baltimore area, 3 of which are ‘upscale’ and 0 (zero) of which card on a regular basis.

  4. E-Juice Connoisseur, many many thanks for this timely and instructive article. My workplace recently banned e-cigs – based on the junk science being peddled about the dangers of “second-hand” vapour…I’m furious about it. Your article definitely gives me a tool to fight back…

    • I hope so… I have another friend whose workplace banned vaping, and he (being the smartass veteran he is) started smoking again, but made sure that he smoked the biggest, cheapest, stinkiest cigars that he could find right next to the building entrance (where they had an ash tray conveniently located). He also works in a telephone sales office, so he started coughing REALLY loud and not covering his mouth ALL DAY LONG. They overturned their decision. I should add that he didn’t inhale the cigar smoke, so I’m gonna give him a pass on the whole “relapsed back to analogs” accusation. I’m not suggesting that you do this… but it would be unassailably cool if you did. 🙂

  5. Will share this when it is spell checked with a person and not MS Word. Example When in reality, that “dangerous chemical” is present at 5% of a concentration that would begin to present a health risk. – should that be “wouldn’t”

  6. While there is some good information here, there still are some pretty glaring mistakes. For example, there are plenty of studies in both humans and animal models which show that nicotine is addictive. Moreover it’s extremely misleading to say that nicotine promotes “wellness” due to it’s neuropharmacological effect when nicotine is infact a potent poison. Don’t shoot the messenger. I smoke, and I think the ban on electronic cigarettes is absurd. But you should be careful how you present your case, because it’s hard to trust someone’s position if there are notable inconsistencies with fairly well established findings.

    • I know that there have been plenty of studies with those results. The problem is that a few of the studies that a lot of that stuff is based on actually originated from a study done around the time of the Civil War, believe it or not. And all of the studies about the addictiveness of nicotine actually resulted in some pretty contradictory information. I wrote another blog post that focused on this issue. And in high enough doses, almost every pharmaceutical chemical is a potent poison. Dosage is the key to all medicinal/pharmaceutical products. The further one digs into this issue, the more it becomes apparent that hardly any reports concerning nicotine, tobacco, or anything smoking-related are trustworthy in the least.

  7. There is a lot of accurate information here about vaping, which I appreciate. However, there are also are some glaring pitfalls. For example, you list only the benefits of nicotine consumption when this is clearly not the entire story. Even a cursory search can bring up many scientifically reliable sources pointing to it’s addictive quality that have no merits based on Civil War research. Its out there, and denying it in favor of purely beneficial perspective on it show a bias that casts doubt on the rest of your well thought out and accurate information. Even your admission in the comments calling the research untrustworthy raises problems. Simply put, you can’t have it both ways… Either the research surrounding nicotine is “untrustworthy”- which casts doubt on your listed benefits as well, or there is reliable research- which forces you to admit that nicotine dependence research has merit also.

    • Agreed, but not all scientific research carries the same level of trustworthiness. I’ve poured through hundreds of research texts and papers. The content of these tests are important, and the methods used to arrive at conclusions. The truth is, they have never been able to demonstrate anything near the same levels of chemical dependency on nicotine alone as they have on whole cigarettes. And the results they’ve had on nicotine, by itself, have been largely inconsistent whereas the results of tests on tobacco smoke (nicotine included) have been fairly even across the board. I thought the same thing about nicotine until I actually undertook the enormous task of reading the entire journal-entry test result documents of the actual experiments done on nicotine. It’s almost staggering at just how inconsistent they are with the lines we’ve been spoon-fed since our grandparents were children. Repeat a lie often enough and eventually everyone accepts it as gospel truth.

  8. “Propylene glycol, which is now used in place of polyethylene glycol, works better and is actually much less dangerous than the already non-dangerous polyethylene glycol”

    How can something be much less dangerous than something’s that not dangerous?