Note: This is the first in a three-part series addressing the issues of electronic cigarette use, especially as it relates to youth.

In 1930 a patent was granted to Joseph Robinson. That patent, according to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), was the first reference to what was called an electronic cigarette.

Over the years, others have tried to develop a smoke-free alternative, but none of them ever made it commercially until the early 2000s when a man named Hon Lik of Beijing, China developed and successfully marketed the first electronic cigarette.

The CASAA indicates Lik reportedly committed to finding a smoke-free alternative after his own father, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer.

As more and more of the world began to press the idea of smoking cessation, this new “alternative” arose.

By 2006 electronic cigarettes were being sold in locations across the United States.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an electronic cigarette, also known as an e-cigarette or e-vaporizer, is a “battery operated device that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine (though not always), flavorings and other chemicals.”

An electronic cigarette works as the battery heats a liquid to create that aerosol (vapor) that is then inhaled. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that electronic cigarettes “have the potential to benefit smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products.”

However, the health risks of electronic cigarette use are unknown at this time.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, which, according to CASAA, gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to regulate the tobacco industry.

The FDA indicates at that time it has some regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes, and the CASAA reports soon after some testing the FDA discouraged the use of electronic cigarettes, adding at that time a concern they may be marketed to young people, that they lack appropriate health warnings and they contain toxic chemicals and carcinogens.

While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would indicate that the vapor from an electronic cigarette “generally contains fewer toxic chemicals than the deadly mix of 7,000 chemicals in smoke from regular cigarettes,” it is not harmless.

In fact, the department reports that electronic cigarette vapor contains volatile organic compounds, ultra fine particles, heavy metals (such as nickel, tin and lead), cancer causing chemicals and certain chemicals found in flavoring that have been linked by the American Lung Association to serious diseases including popcorn lung.

The problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that 21 percent of high-school students in the U.S. indicated in 2018 they have used electronic cigarettes.

The number of youth in the U.S. who are vaping is on the rise, and those who are selling the products are marketing to youth through the use of flavored liquids that appeal to them. Those youth have no idea what they are doing, but there are people who are willing to tell them.

– Photo courtesy of the Internet Public Domain