It’s human nature to needlessly panic.
As nerve-racking as it is to feel that the direction of humanity is out of your control, institutions like religion, representative government and the scientific process are all out to assuage these fears in one way or another.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the developed world is largely free of horrible diseases like smallpox and cholera, equally horrible “cures” for those diseases and highly contaminated food. Optimism may be out-of-fashion, but I believe that, on the whole, people lead a higher quality of life today than in days past.
Humanity may not be perfect. Violence and discrimination, corruption and poverty, water shortages and cancer and pollution alike are all still prevalent. But cancer is so widespread largely because people now live long enough to get it. And even though rural places like Kansas probably have more pollution than they used to, older industrial cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have seen their air quality improve markedly over the years. Despite certain individuals who would tell you otherwise, I’d like to think people are generally healthier, happier and more knowledgeable of how they treat their bodies now than they’ve ever been.
And then shit like this happens.
It’s common knowledge that traditional cigarettes are addicting, dangerous and carcinogenic. But new to the scene is a “cool,” “fun” and “safe” alternative called electronic cigarettes (or “E-cigs”). The catch? Many E-cigs still contain addictive chemicals. They have the potential to explode in your face. And some sources even claim that, like traditional cigarettes, E-cigs cause cancer.
But electronic cigarettes are advertised with such vigor that teen audiences can’t resist. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that E-cig ads have alleged that smoking E-cigs instead of traditional cigs is akin to quitting smoking. You must have been out sick the day your middle school history teacher showed you pictures of 1950s magazine ads portraying cigarettes as healthy. This same truth-stretching manipulation is occurring today with electronic cigarettes…and it’s working.
Somehow, E-cig ads fail to mention that, instead of a valid method of quitting smoking, vaping is sometimes used as an entry point for young people into smoking traditional cigs, with the potential for a lifetime of nicotine addiction. And the fact stands that any nicotine use by adolescents can cause lasting brain damage.
That said, E-cigs are probably not as harmful as traditional cigarettes. After all, throwing someone down the stairs is less dangerous than shoving him off a cliff. But that doesn’t justify throwing someone down the stairs. If anything, it should foster a fear of heights.
Yet somehow young people are still more likely to respond to E-cigarettes with interest and excitement rather than fear. Frustratingly, the #1 reason why adolescents experiment with E-cigarettes, according to the FDA, is because of the variety of flavors. And these appealing flavors—from “root beer” to “dragon’s blood”—in turn seem to mercilessly target teens.
They create a quirky, innocent facade that hides a dark future of addiction, health problems and even financial strain.
Addiction itself can create this financial strain. Even if E-cigs are cheaper than traditional cigarettes, having to depend on a narcotic such as nicotine to the point when you prioritize obtaining cigarettes over food, medicine and shelter is no way to live your life. These lifestyle changes may seem a little over-exaggerated, but avid users and hobbyists could still be spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on E-cig cartridges every year. It’s money that a lot of people don’t have to spare.
However, nicotine is not the only enemy in electronic cigarettes. While nicotine is probably the only addictive chemical, other harmful substances have been found in certain brands, triggering the effects of a California law mandating warnings of birth defects and cancer risks on all E-cig merchandise.
Luckily, other regulations have been passed nationwide, but the popularity and development of E-cigarettes has largely outpaced government intervention until recently. Traditional cigarettes have maintained a similar form and content for decades, but rapidly changing technology, tastes and branding have had users employing distinguishing terms like “first-generation” and “second-generation” electronic cigarettes. It’s a lesson learned from designer drugs that when a narcotic product is so dynamic as to evade regulation, that product becomes exponentially more dangerous.
But behind the chaos of an under-regulated and under-researched drug market lies a bizarre phenomenon: The hobbyism now associated with vaping.
People seem willing to spend hours of their time competing to blow rings, spread their smoke as far as they can and envelop others in clouds of toxins. Perhaps more relevant than under-regulation is the danger of having an established, permanent culture around vaping. This “culture” could give vaping more longevity than it seems like it’s going to have now. I hesitate to call it a “culture,” though, because culture implies intellectual achievement, and I refuse to call this an intellectual achievement.
Forget the linguistic distinctions. The point is that society doesn’t need another generations-long experiment with carcinogenic death machines, whether they’re made of paper and tobacco or colloidal liquid poison.
Traditional cigarettes have been rebranded to seem new, safe and fun. But don’t let this clever advertising fool you: You don’t have an excuse to pick up an electronic cigarette unless you’re trying to quit smoking. And even then, E-cig ads specify that they are not intended to be “smoking cessation products,” although many imply otherwise. Either way, it makes no sense to trust big tobacco companies—and yes, E-cig manufacturers are tobacco companies—to help people quit smoking, especially when there are so many other safe, FDA-approved options (brief aside: I feel like I’ve cited the FDA so many times in this article that they should be paying me).
So are E-cigs less harmful than traditional cigarettes?
Still, it pays to bear in mind that conclusive long-term studies about the effects of electronic cigarettes may be decades away. Studying these effects has been made harder by the large diversity of flavors and brands of E-cigs. However, when and if a study comes out irreversibly linking E-cigs to cancer and heart disease, you don’t want to have already been addicted to them for 20 years.