Health concerns rise for popular e-cig device

By Travis Baugh
Staff Writer

With most trying to be healthier, many people are eating kale, drinking pomegranate juice, quitting cigarettes or changing over to the now-ubiquitous electronic cigarette, or e-cig. But now bars and restaurants are starting to ban e-cigs. Brookhaven College banned e-cigs in 2011.

I believe e-cigs are another form of nicotine consumption, which is not healthy, but the e-cig is the best option for people who are looking to quit smoking. According to its patent, the first electronic cigarette was developed in 2003 by a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik. Lik developed the e-cig as a safer alternative to tobacco.

However, the idea is much older. Herbert A. Gilbert first patented the idea of a smokeless, non-tobacco cigarette in 1963. “There is no electric cigarette today, that I have seen, that does not follow the basic road map set forth in my original patent,” Gilbert said in a recent interview with ecigarettedirect. Although Gilbert’s design is very similar to what we have today, Lik is credited with the invention of the modern e-cig.

The e-cig of today is composed of a rechargeable battery that powers a heating element called an atomizer. According to its patent, the atomizer heats the e-liquid which turns to vapor and is inhaled into the lungs. The two primary ingredients of e-liquid are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. The vegetable glycerin is what makes the actual vapor when heated, and the propylene glycol holds the flavoring and nicotine.

According to a March 2014 New York Times article by Matt Ritchel, the amount of nicotine in a bottle of e-liquid can range from 1.8 percent and 2.4 percent. Some e-liquids can contain even higher concentrations of nicotine, and others contain no nicotine at all, just added flavor.

Flavors in the e-cig world are plentiful. Tobacco-blend flavorings make up only a fraction of the e-liquid market. Fruit flavors such as apple, blueberry and apricot are common. Food and drink flavors are also on the e-liquid menu, with flavors such as coffee or banana split. There are even pizza and bacon flavored e-liquids.

Some people add larger amounts of vegetable glycerin to their e-liquid, allowing them to produce a larger cloud of vapor. According to an article and video on, competitions to blow the biggest cloud are judged on how thick the cloud is, how long it hovers in the air and the actual length of the cloud. This is known as cloud chasing.

The e-liquid is not the only adjustable aspect of e-cigs. The devices themselves are highly customizable. The manager of a local e-cig shop, who only wanted to be referred to as B, said, “It’s a subculture of a subculture.” The most basic device can look almost identical to a real cigarette. With more advanced models, every piece of the device can be changed to modify the performance and look. Some “rigs,” as they are commonly called, can range into hundreds of dollars.

Mildred Kelley, Brookhaven nurse, believes the decorative nature of the devices and the wide variety of flavors are crucial points of the e-cigs’ popularity. “The manufacturers say it’s harmless, but I don’t think we have had it long enough to know that,” Kelley said.

The harmful part about smoking tobacco is the carcinogens created by combustion of the tobacco. “You’re not having any combustion with one of these,” B said. Regulations regarding e-cigarettes and the e-liquid are hazy at best.

There is no regulation on how much nicotine can be put in a bottle of e-liquid, according to Ritchel’s article. Nicotine in this form can be absorbed transdermally and can be toxic to children and some adults. However, the Food and Drug Administration has approved both propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin for human consumption.

Kelley said when something is not regulated, anything can be said to sell the product, and that is the bottom line. Robert Bostick, co-founder of Crave DFW and vape hobbyist, said: “I’m 46 years old, and I’ve been smoking two or three packs a day for the last 26 years … the reason I switched to vaping is because I knew smoking was killing me.” Bostick said he vapes now as much as he would smoke, around 5-6ml a day, or half a bottle of e-liquid, and that if anything can get him off smoking that much, it is a good thing. Bostick said: “I started vaping because I got off cigarettes, a very deadly habit I started 26 years ago. I would never recommend or endorse e-cigs to anyone who has never smoked cigarettes before.”