Why are e-cigarettes so problematic? A look into San Francisco's decision to ban its sales

San Francisco has voted to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes, nicotine devices that have become extremely popular among teenagers. The move comes as a surprise as the city is home to Juul, the world's largest manufacturer of the e-cigs. However growing fears of addiction among youth and the lack of research on the impact on our health has led to authorities taking a better-safe-than-sorry stance on the cigarette alternative.

Once hailed as a healthy alternative to actual smoking, the use of e-cigarettes has been frowned upon. But how did our hopes to beat smoking fall so far from grace?

Understanding What is in an e-cig?

E-cigarettes, or vapes, are little portable devices that heat liquid into aerosols for people to inhale. These liquids are loaded in cartridges that can be purchased from various suppliers. They also come in various flavours and packaged in all sorts of appealing designs.

One truth is that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes themselves. Vapes heat nicotine that is extracted from tobacco that combine with other chemicals in water vapour that you inhale. Regular tobacco cigarettes have over 7,000 toxic chemicals that expose smokers to far more toxic content than traditional cigarettes.

We say "less harmful" but not necessarily "healthier" – e-cigs do contain harmful additives. These include nicotine, flavorants such as diacetyl, which can cause lung diseases and very fine particles that are damaging to our organs.

Problems with e-cigs

It is still nicotine! You may be exposed to fewer toxins, but the nicotine you smoke is still a toxic substance. It causes potential problems like high blood pressure and risk of heart attack – and there are no two ways about this.

What's even more worrying is the impact that isn't researched yet. Unlike traditional smoking, there is a lack of in-depth research done on the impact of vaping in the long run. And until these studies surface, we are exposing ourselves to substances that we don't understand yet.

It is just as addictive – And because we're dealing with nicotine, vaping still breeds addiction the same as actual cigarettes. Smoking fills your brain with nicotine receptors that earn for more incoming nicotine. Dopamine, a feel-good chemical in your brain, is released whenever nicotine is consumed, making you feel satisfied. But this doesn't last, and these receptors quickly earn for more nicotine, creating an addiction.

E-cigs may possibly be less damaging to your lungs, but it still doesn't solve the fundamental issues of wanting a smoke. Smokers are still reliant on the device for relief. For young smokers, it could lead to wanting even more of a "hit", making actual cigarettes even more alluring.

Misleading marketing

If e-cigs were meant to be an alternative to cigarettes to help overcome smoking addiction, its marketing is anything but. Vape shops all over the world package e-cigs in all sorts of funky colors, making them look cool to own. Different flavors from fruit or citrus to exotic ones make it feel like a collectable – gotta smoke 'em all.

Without any extensive studies done, most manufacturers promoting the "healthy alternative to smoking" are also capitalizing on short-term research. Experts still can't agree on the actual long-term impact. What you're being fed is over-enthusiastic marketing that is sadly still unsupported by the masses.

Hard to monitor

Regulation is also a key part of cigarette distribution. Health authorities keep tabs on the manufacturing process of nicotine products from its contents to its marketing. But with e-cigarettes, its currently difficult to know what goes into each cartridge and how high a dosage it contains.

The vapors themselves are also easy to abuse. The intensity of each puff can be increased with concentrated cartridges or by meddling with the vape's voltage.

So it’s bad – what now?

The painful truth is vapes aren't what they promised to be. It's creating a lot more problems than solutions and the list of cities banning e-cigs are growing.

If you don't already smoke, avoid vaping. On top of unknown health problems, it inevitably breeds addiction and may even predispose you to smoke actual cigarettes.

Cities may not ban it, but it is certainly a concern especially for youth. Stronger regulations are needed including higher taxes on e-cigarettes. Marketing has also been a huge concern in the e-cig industry, especially in the appealing variety of flavours. If e-cigs are indeed about healthcare and finding an exit for smoking, flavors other than tobacco and menthol should be prohibited.