Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

What we know about the dangers of e-cigarettes

Compared to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are extremely understudied. There is, however, some evidence on their negative effects on your health.

  • Traditional cigarettes have the benefit of decades' worth of research on their harmful effects. E-cigarettes are relatively new, and our understanding of their long-term effects is limited.
  • To fill this gap, researchers are conducting studies to identify exactly how e-cigarettes effect our bodies.
  • To date, it appears that e-cigarettes are better for you than traditional cigarettes, but that doesn't make them harmless.


E-cigarettes are, in all likelihood, better for your health than smoking cigarettes. There's a general agreement among the medical community that vaping exposes people to fewer toxic chemicals than cigarettes, but that doesn't mean they're consequence-free.

For one, e-cigarettes use a different cocktail of chemicals than cigarettes, which, even if they're fewer in number, may be of a more dangerous variety. But more importantly, cigarettes have had the benefit of many decades worth of research; e-cigarettes are simply too new for us to know what the long-term consequences will be.

That being said, there is some empirical evidence as to the negative health effects of e-cigarettes. Here's what we know so far.

Nicotine alone isn't harmless

The main appeal of e-cigarettes is that they deliver nicotine, which functions as a stimulant, ensuring both that e-cigarettes are enjoyable and addictive. However, even by itself, nicotine can do a number on your body.

It's been implicated in cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, and aortic aneurysms. Though nicotine is not a carcinogen in and of itself, new research suggests it promotes tumor growth, the formation of blood vessels that supply tumors with nutrients, and metastasis. Hopefully this doesn't need to be said, but it's also quite unhealthy for pregnant mothers and young children.

Exposure to metals from e-cigarette coils

Most e-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating an e-liquid with a metal coil. These coils are made out of a variety of metals, with the majority made out of Kanthal (an alloy of iron, chromium, and aluminum) and nichrome (an alloy of nickel and chromium). A 2018 study found that the metals associated with these heating coils were leaching into the liquid solution — and, commensurately, into the bodies of the people inhaling them — at unsafe levels. Chronic exposure to such metals has been linked to lung, liver, heart, and brain damage, and may also depress immune function and increase cancer risk.

The cocktail of flavoring agents

E-liquids for use in vaporizers on display. Image source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

One of the biggest concerns with vaping is the chemicals used to flavor e-liquids. While many chemicals used in e-cigarettes are labelled as safe for human consumption by the FDA, typically, this labeling applies to their ingestion. Inhaling them may have very different consequences. While there are far too many to go through individually, a few stand out:

Cinnamaldehyde — which, as you may have guessed, has a cinnamon-like taste — has been found to be significantly toxic. Four very common flavoring agents — vanillin, ethyl maltol, ethyl vanillin, and methol — are either carcinogenic or toxic and contribute to cardiopulmonary and neurodegenerative diseases. In general, many of the sweeter flavorings tends to be more toxic. Diacetyl is sometimes found in flavored e-liquids, which provides a sort of buttery flavor. Originally, it was used in microwave popcorn, but manufacturers stopped including it when it was revealed to contribute to bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as popcorn lung.

Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin

While flavoring chemicals can vary from e-liquid to e-liquid, propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG) are essentially universal. As mentioned above, these are considered non-toxic when ingested, but their toxicity when inhaled is not clear. Some research, however, has been conducted on these chemicals.

One study, for instance, focused on testing a wide variety of e-liquid chemicals on cell cultures. Based off of the reduced rates at which the treated cells grew, the researchers could then evaluate the toxicity of e-liquid chemicals on those cells. In addition to testing a number of flavoring compounds, they also tested a pure PG/VG treatment, and found that it significantly impacted cell growth.

That being said, the evidence isn't entirely conclusive on PG/VG's toxicity. Another study, for instance, found no toxic effects in mice exposed to aerosolized PG/VG. Ultimately, the preliminary evidence seems to suggest that inhaling PG/VG over the short-term is not toxic, but there is a serious lack of data on their effects over the long-term.

There's another potential concern related to PG/VG in e-cigarettes: formaldehyde exposure. When PG/VG is heated, it can become oxidized to produce carbonyl compounds, such as glyoxal, acrolein, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde, especially at higher wattages. However, a report by the Royal College of Physicians states that "In normal conditions of use [i.e., low wattages/temperatures], toxin levels in inhaled e-cigarette vapour are probably well below prescribed threshold limit values for occupational exposure."

Ultimately, vaping can be said to be safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, but it's clearly not harmless. If you use e-cigarettes and are concerned about the toxicity of the chemicals in your e-liquid, the Center for Tobacco Regulatory Science and Lung Health maintains a database on the toxicity of a variety of e-liquid brands at eliquidinfo.org

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Keep reading Show less

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Keep reading Show less
Videos

Unhappy at work? How to find meaning and maintain your mental health

Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast