Herbert Gilbert, a scrap metal dealer from Beaver Falls in Pennsylvania, USA, patented the concept for electric cigarettes in 1963. But it wasn’t until 2007 that e-cigarettes came onto the market in the USA. Other countries followed a short time later. In 2018, e-cigarettes achieved a worldwide turnover of 11.3 billion US dollars, with an upward trend.
The e-cigarette is based on the technology of fog machines. An electrical heating coil evaporates a solution of glycerine, propylene glycol, nicotine, and aromas. The consumer inhales or puffs the resulting aerosol. No combustion takes place. Initially, e-cigarettes imitated real cigarettes in terms of appearance, but in the meantime, they have clearly distinguished themselves from them.
The aerosols and emissions contain substances such as aldehydes, N-nitrosamines, alkaloids, and metals. Many of the substances have an irritant effect and trigger inflammation. The specific dangers of the e-cigarette have not yet been fully clarified. There are no long-term studies. The great variability of devices, liquids, and their use make their evaluation additionally difficult.
According to the German Cancer Research Center, a complete switch from smoking to e-cigarettes can probably reduce the health risk. However, based on existing studies, the devices are not a recognized tool for stopping smoking. In the USA, it has been shown that many young people who have not smoked before are starting to vape because it is considered trendy. Between 2017 and 2018, the proportion of schoolchildren who vaped rose from 11.7 to 20.8 %. 3.6 million minors are now vaping in the USA. Flavored e-cigarettes are particularly popular among them. According to experts, the e-cigarette often functions as a gateway drug instead of a means for quitting smoking.
The science journalist Brigitte Osterrath sums up that the real problem with e-cigarettes is perhaps not the mixture of chemicals released during vaping. Its composition could be improved by controlled temperatures, standardized equipment, and clear guidelines regarding liquids. However, marketing e-cigarettes as a lifestyle product could normalize smoking itself and make more people dependent on nicotine. Since smoking reduces life expectancy by almost ten years, this is not a good outlook.
- Toxikologie E‐Zigaretten: Dampfen statt rauchen,
Nachr. Chem. 2020.