Are e-cigarettes dangerous?

I am not convinced that e-cigarettes are safe.

Tobacco still kills more Americans than any other cause -- more than 1,000 people a day. Battery-operated e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco, but they are still a tobacco product, a source of nicotine. The devices heat nicotine, propylene glycol and glycerin into a vapor, which is inhaled by the user. The practice is called "vaping."

It looks ikely to me that e-cigarettes are a clever invention by the industry to keep people addicted to smoking -- and to encourage more young people to start smoking.

I am very sensitive to tobacco smoke. I can tell instantly if someone has lit up a cigarette anywhere near me. I start to cough.

Recently, aboard a city bus, I saw someone up front exhale a cloud of what looked like cigarette smoke, but I couldn't smell it. Maybe this was an e-cigarette?

Well, are e-cigarettes any improvement over tobacco cigarettes, from the viewpoint of those of us who do not smoke? Am I subject to health risks at all similar to those that I must endure from second-hand tobacco cigarette smoke?

I read about a research group that uses a smoking robot (smokebot?) to identify the chemicals in e-cigarette vapors. They also study the smoke from tobacco products. According to the smokebot, tobacco smoke includes a mixture of more than 7,000 chemicals. Of them, at least 69 can cause cancer. In e-cigarette vapor, the smokebot has detected only a handful of these harmful chemicals. But that handful includes compounds called nitrosamines -- thought to be the main culprits that lead to lung cancer in tobacco smokers. And don't forget the nicotine.

So, is the danger from tobacco smoke only from the non-nicotine chemical components? Should I be tolerant of being exposed to the e-cigarette vapor, because it contains so little nicotine. What about the other chemical components?

I think the biggest danger posed by e-cigarettes is that they will promote smoking. Young people smoke cigarettes because they think that holding a cigarette makes them look all grown up. Trying out e-cigarettes may well encourage switching to tobacco later on. How this plays out depends on the advertising produced by both the tobacco companies and the companies that make e-cigarettes.

With all the electronic components making up an e-cigarette, will dropping the e-butts in the street cause more public pollution than the tobacco cigarettes do?

There was an article in the SF Chronicle about the possibility of regulating e-cigarettes. It warned aginst a knee-jerk reaction to anything that looks like a cigarette.

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