Electronic Cigarettes: Do You Know What You’re Inhaling?

We all know that Monmouth’s campus flourishes in the warm weather – everybody is outside enjoying the warm weather. Imagine sitting on Wilson’s Great Lawn just trying to soak up the few minutes of sun you’re able to get before your next class and all of a sudden you have a giant cloud of vapor smoke in front of your face and poof – your peaceful and joyful experience evaporates into the air along with the vapor smoke.

Electronic cigarettes are the new fad among the United States’ population – specifically young adults aged 18 to 24 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that allow a liquid that contains nicotine among other chemicals, to be heated and inhaled in the form of vapor instead of smoke. Few studies have been conducted solely on the correlation between electronic cigarettes and college students, but our peers here at Monmouth University are in the major age cohort that is utilizing electronic cigarettes.

As a Monmouth student, I have walked around campus, especially during the warmer months, and as I walk between classes I see three out of ten students smoking electronic cigarettes. Kristen Flynn, a senior level chemistry major here at Monmouth, stated, “I see people using electronic cigarettes all the time especially in the academic buildings. It got to the point where Monmouth banned their usage Edison actually banned their usage”. According to Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement, “Monmouth University’s smoking policy is inclusive of e-cigarettes… you are not permitted to smoke in any University owned or sponsored building including Pier Village and the Graduate Center at Monmouth Corporate Park.

If you smoke on campus, you must be a minimum of 25 feet from the entrance to the building so people do not have to walk through the second hand smoke”.

 Flynn further emphasizes, “I do not think people are aware of the effects that can come with vaping. Since it is advertised as an alternative to smoking actual cigarettes, most people automatically assume it must be healthier for you”.  With our campus being active in vaping, two majors concerns about these products come to the surface – what chemicals are in these products and what effect are they truly having on our health.

Electronic cigarettes are promoted for being safer because they lack tobacco, carcinogens and fewer toxic chemicals than regular cigarettes (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). The small amount of research conducted on electronic cigarettes raise questionable concerns about electronic cigarette’s platform of being a healthier alterative to cigarette smoking. For example, Hutzler et al. (2014) examined twenty-eight electronic cigarette liquids and comprised a list of 141 chemicals that were present in these liquids.  Chemicals such as propylene glycol, vanillin, ethyl maltol, ethyl vanillin and menthol were some of the most frequent chemicals that were found to be presence in vaping liquids (Hutzler, 2014).

Dr. William Schreiber, a chemistry professor at Monmouth with a background in experimenting with some of these chemicals, stated, “these chemicals (referring to vanillin, ethyl maltol, ethyl vanillin and menthol) are found in nature, but with enhanced flavor properties. 

They are also standard flavoring ingredients that may occur naturally in foods and are also added to enhance flavors of processed foods.  Therefore they have been tested for safety – by ingestion.” Furthermore, another major chemical that was present in vaping liquids was ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is a common chemical that is used in antifreeze and has various toxic effects on the body (Hutzler et al, 2014).

In addition Goel et al. (2015), also found that free radicals are produced during the heating and burning process of the electronic cigarette liquid.  Free radicals are molecules in our bodies that lack an electron, thus, making them highly reactive with other chemicals present around them. If free radicals overwhelm our bodies and they are not properly balanced with antioxidants, then oxidative stress occurs which will “adversely alter lipids, proteins, and DNA and trigger a number of human diseases” (Lobo, Patil, Phatak, & Chandra, 2010).

Despite electronic cigarettes having some natural components and ingredients present, they also contain potentially harmful and hazardous chemicals that have not been fully studied by the Food and Drug Administration (US Food & Drug Administration, 2015). According to the Food and Drug Administration, a lack scientific studies on electronic cigarettes leaves people in the dark about the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or whether there are any benefits associated with using these products (Food and Drug Administration, 2015). 

While the Food and Drug Administration has little no regulation on these devices, independent researchers are currently researching and publishing studies on these devices. For example, electronic cigarettes pose a threat to non-users because of the potential effects of second hand smoke. A study conducted by Wolfgang Schober found that “vaping worsened indoor air quality, specifically by increasing the concentration of nicotine, particulate matter, PAHs and aluminum — compounds that have been linked to lung and cardiovascular disease and cancer among other health effects” (Chameides, 2014). 

Furthermore, a non-profit research group, RTI International, conducted their own scientific studies on these devices. In 2015, RTI International conducted a study, “Exhaled Electronic Cigarette Emissions: What’s Your Secondhand Exposure?”, that concluded “electronic cigarette emissions contain enough nicotine, and numerous other chemicals to cause concern … a non-user may be exposed to secondhand aerosol particles similar in size to tobacco smoke and diesel engine smoke” (RTI International,2015). In fact, they even linked electronic cigarettes to acute respiratory diseases, including asthma and bronchitis (RTI International, 2015)!

This raises a major concern and should have everybody questioning – do you know what chemicals you’re breathing in on the steps of Wilson Hall?