Catrena Lisse, a GC chemistry professor, has conducted research over the past year which suggests that e-cigarettes could be just as bad, if not worse, than traditional cigarettes.
The experiments, conducted by students, have concluded that some e-cigarettes contain harmful toxins and greater amounts of nicotine, which can lead to severe addiction.
GC students built the smoke chamber Lisse used in her research.
“I know we are a smoke free campus, but for the health of everyone, I think we should be a smoke and vape-free campus,” Lisse said.
Lisse has been studying the effects of cigarettes for about 10 years. Recently, her undergraduate students have been researching the contents of e-cigarettes and vapor liquid to analyze how they affect the human body.
“[E-cigarette companies] are playing it off as a safer version of smoking,” Lisse said. “We were honestly shocked that we found some of the stuff we found. We have found many similar chemicals as traditional cigarettes.”
Most e-cigarettes are not as regulated as traditional tobacco, and users are exposed to many harmful, artificial toxins not advertised on the product labels.
Conducting these experiments in a smoke chamber, Lisse and her students found significant traces of xylene, benzene and spiro[2,4]hepta-4,6-diene, which are all known carcinogens.
They also found traces of 2,3-pentanedione and acetoin, extremely harmful chemicals which can cause medical conditions like bronchitis obliterans, also known as “popcorn lung,” in the vapors tested.
“We contacted the CDC because they regulate cigarettes in the division of tobacco, and they monitor the different chemicals coming off of cigarettes, but no one was really monitoring e-cigarettes until recently,” Lisse said.
In 2016, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention Surgeon General issued a report concluding that “e-cigarette use among U.S. youth and young adults is now a major public health concern…growing 900 percent from 2011 to 2015.”
The CDC Surgeon General also stated that “e-cigarette companies appear to be using many of the advertising tactics the tobacco industry used to persuade a new generation of young people to use their products.”
E-cigarettes were supposed to provide a healthier alternative to help adults quit smoking. However, aside from the toxins, addiction may be an even greater risk for e-cigarette users.
Freshman Matt Bostick, who struggled with tobacco addiction, began using e-cigarettes in October as a way to quit smoking.
“I thought it would be a better and safer alternative to smoking, and I haven’t picked up a cigarette since,” Bostick said. “But when I first got it, I used it way too much. I would go through a pod a day, which is the equivalent of a whole pack of cigarettes.”
Vapor does not damage the lungs as severely as smoke, but the harmful toxins and higher nicotine levels are a tradeoff, not a solution.
“As dangerous as tobacco smoking is, honestly, I would think vaping is just as bad, if not worse, because you are getting all the different flavors that are masking what is actually in it,” Lisse said. “Nicotine is a known addictive drug, and so, by consuming more, you will want more, and it’s going to be a lot harder to stop.”
Freshman George Dunwody, who uses a brand called JUUL, said, “It’s convenient compared to stuff like a vape or cigarettes because you can fit it in your pocket and use it pretty leisurely. They offer different flavors and have more variety.”
One of Lisse’s concerns was that she didn’t think that people knew or understood the health effects of these products. However, Dunwody disagreed, explaining that people will always do things that are not necessarily good for them.
“I think it has negative impacts on your health but not as severely as people may it think it will,” Dunwody said. “People will drink knowing it’s bad for them or eat unhealthy knowing it’s bad for them.”
Products like JUUL claim to be free of toxins like 2,3-pentanedione and acetoin that cause popcorn lung, yet their ingredients still list things like benzoic acid, which causes health problems such as irritation of the skin, nose and throat. When inhaled, it will cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
These products are still relatively new, and long-term effects are still unknown.