That vapor you’re inhaling from your e-cigarette or Juul? It’s not really vapor.
“What’s coming out is more similar of a can of Pam,” says Paula Collier, tobacco education coordinator for the Hamilton County Health Department, referring to the aerosol cooking spray.
Technically, it’s propylene glycol, a type of alcohol. Websites from the vaping industry downplay the effects of the compound, but Collier says they’re tap dancing around the truth.
“They say it’s safe for ingestion, but eating and breathing are two different things,” she says. “It’s actually particles that are harmful to the lungs and cause inflammation.”
Those problems extend to those standing nearby who inhale the vapor, similar to secondhand smoke, she says.
Because of those issues, vaping is one of the banned products when the UTC campus goes smoke-free on Jan. 1, 2019. It has always been part of the ban, which includes cigarettes, cigars and pipes; chewing tobacco is still allowed. The University of Tennessee in Knoxville implemented the same policy in August.
Logan Garrett, editor-in-chief at the University Echo, believes about 50 percent of vapers on campus don’t realize that it will be banned when the smoke-free policy goes into effect.
“The first thing they think of is cigarettes, and they don’t really consider their vaping devices as smoking devices,” he says.
He also notes that the most popular type of vaping device is a Juul, which fits in the palm of your hand and can quickly be stashed away. A Juul user himself, he says the device can make it difficult to identify the vaper.
“I can just tuck it in my front pocket and walk away from a cloud of smoke,” says Garrett, who recently wrote an editorial column in the Echo about the Juul and its rising popularity.
The concentration of nicotine in Juul is more than double the concentration found in other e-cigarettes, according the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General has declared that youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe.
The Health Department’s Collier says there is a certain amount of risk reduction when comparing e-cigarettes to regular ones since an e-cigarette “doesn’t produce carbon monoxide because it’s not on fire.”
But nicotine is still found in the liquid used by e-cigarettes, depending on the brand, she says. Nicotine is addictive, she says, and also constricts the body’s blood vessels which can lead to such problems as high blood pressure and stroke.
This year, all packaging and advertising of e-cigarettes must have the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning about the possible addictiveness of nicotine.
Some liquids used in e-cigarettes are flavored, and there are questions on whether the ingredients used to make those may be dangerous, Collier says, citing cinnamon and menthol as two of the more common ones. The FDA has not issued any statements about the flavorings, pro or con.