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Is vaping safer than cigarettes? What science says

By Fabrice Pierre-Toussaint

Staff Writer for Telegraph Local | See my LinkedIn

According to, the first patent for the e-cigarette originated in 1927. Granted to Joseph Robinson in 1930. Later on in the 60’s, Herbert A Gilbert received a patent in 1965, (filed in ‘63) and created prototypes that possibly never included nicotine yet failed to commercialize it. Jumping on to ‘79 when Phil Ray, one of the pioneers of the computer worked with his personal physician Norman Jacobson, created the first commercialized variant of the e-cig, it relied on the evaporation of the nicotine. 

 Several patents for nicotine inhaler devices were filed throughout the 20th century and early 2000s by both tobacco companies and individual inventors, with a number of activities in the 1990s. Most of them relied on evaporation or physical propulsion, yet a few were fairly similar to modern e-cigarettes. One chemical-reaction based system that was invented in the 1990s is still in the pipeline. Reynolds brought to market the Eclipse “heat-not-burn” device, whose functioning falls somewhere in between that of a pure nicotine inhaler and a combusted cigarette. 

The first commercially successful electronic cigarette was created in Beijing, China by Hon Lik, a 52 year old pharmacist, inventor and smoker in 2003.  He reportedly created the device after his father, also a heavy smoker, dies of lung cancer. The company Lik worked for, Golden Dragon Holdings, developed the device and changed its name to Ruyan, which means “like smoke.”

In April 2006, Electronic cigarettes were introduced to Europe. Around late 2006 to early 2007, e-cigs were introduced to the United States. The U.S Customs and Border Protection website stated August 22nd, 2006.

Vaping may seem to be a modern trend now but they have their roots in ancient history. Ancient Egypt is known for its vaping techniques, such as using hot stones to vape herbs. Thousands of years ago the first shisha was introduced to India. All those techniques led to the invention of current vapes as we know them today.

Sources from, vaporizing has a long history. Herodotus describes, in Egypt (5th century B.C.) people were heating herbs and oils on hot stones to vape. The orator Cicero gave him the title “The Father of History,”. Therefore, we might have to trust him about the ancient origins of vaping.

In Europe, vaping was also popular, and in the 90s “Eagle” Bill Amato invented the cannabis vaporizer. Amsterdam was the place. Interestingly enough, they based the German stationary/desktop vaporizer Volcano, from 2000, on his revolutionary ideas.

Other sources stated that smoking e-cigarettes could help alleviate and decrease the use of smoking regular cigarettes. Let’s take Dr. Jed Rose for example, his father died at 47 from smoke related heart disease. Then, as a postdoc at UCLA, Rose became fascinated with how millions of people, like his own dad, could become cripplingly addicted to a drug that “doesn’t get people visibly high.” 

Since then, he’s pioneered patches, drugs, and vape-like e-cigarette prototypes that target smokers in the hopes they’ll make a switch that could net them extra years of life. 

Rose’s insatiable interest in smoking cessation has bolstered a 40-plus year academic and industry-sponsored career.

Yet, with evidence of vaping related illnesses reports on the rise, according to, Rose worried that “anti-vaping forces” are being given the “cover” they need to undercut e-cigarettes.

He has stated that public health institutions such as the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids are overdoing it with the fears about the potential health consequences of vaping in an attempt to “squelch an industry that has the potential to save millions of lives.”

Alongside his brother, Dr. Daniel Rose invented the first nicotine patch in 1984. Around that same time, Rose met a young biomathematician who’d later become his wife and longtime lab partner.

Frederique Behm-Rose worked with Rose to develop a prototype e-cigarette in the mid-1980s at UCLA. They called it “distilled smoke.”

“All this stuff, the really bad stuff that comes out of burning regular cigarettes, is something we always wanted to get away from, because it’s really the culprit for all those diseases and cancer-causing agents in the burning tobacco,” Behm-Rose said. “Nicotine replacement works to a certain extent. But that was never quite the solution for the true hard core smokers who really need to light up a cigarette in the morning, and go on to smoke a pack a day.”

She remembers growing up around a cloud of smoke at home. Her mother inhaled two packs a day, and her father was cigarette-addicted, too. 

“We tasted it ourselves, you know? I mean, in those days you could do that,” Behm-Rose said with a laugh. “It was actually a better version of a cigarette.”  

The taste of the distilled cigarette was cleaner, she said, while it still delivered a recognizable hit to the back of the throat and mouth, which a slow-release patch can’t do.

“I just wish they were alive so that we could actually give them an e-cigarette to smoke instead of the combustible cigarettes,” Behm-Rose said of her and her husband’s deceased parents.

Behm-Rose’s mother passed on at 78 from a stroke, which is common among cigarette smokers. 

Rose is convinced that vaping is a far safer alternative to cigarette smoking. He laments the national attention created by a recent crop of vaping-related deaths, many of which involved patients inhaling THC in addition to or instead of nicotine.

“E-cigarettes and other replacements that provide smokers with the nicotine in a form they can enjoy with the habit, but without the toxic ingredients in cigarettes, have enormous potential for saving millions of lives,” he said. 

Rose and Behm-Rose are both irritated at the fact that there is not enough attention to the mostly 500,000 and more Americans that die from smoking related health-issues. These include at least a dozen cancers, as well as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Type 2 diabetes, and pneumonia.

“540,000 deaths every year, where’s the hysteria about all of these?” Rose asked.

Nonetheless, Rose admits that e-cigs are not a miracle cure. 

“Harm reduction is giving smokers who will otherwise die of cancer, emphysema and so forth, heart disease, an alternative that is substantially less harmful,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that vaping is the same as breathing clean, fresh air.” 

At least one person who died in recent months, a 68 year-old former smoker from Nebraska who vaped around the clock, seemingly only ever vaped nicotine. That state’s health department now attributes his death to vaping, not cigarettes or pneumonia, as originally suspected. 

Federal investigators are now recommending that Americans refrain from vaping THC and potentially stop vaping completely, at least until a clear cause has been established for the growing number of lung injuries.

In 2011 there were around 7 million adult e-cigarette users globally in 2011 rising to 41 million in 2018. E-cigarette use is highest in China, the US, and Europe, with China having the greatest number of users in the world. Growth in the UK as of January 2018 had reportedly slowed since 2013. In a 2014 survey, about 13% of American high school students reported using them at least once in the previous month, and in 2015 around 10% of American adults were users. 

In the UK, users have increased from 700,000 in 2012 to 2.6 million in 2015. About 60% of UK users are smokers and about 40% are ex-smokers, while use among never-smokers in the UK is negligible. As of 2018, 95% of e-cigarettes were made in China.

The most common issues with e-cigs were that the devices were hard to refill, the cartridges could leak and altering the dose was difficult. Smokers quit because they realized it was not the same as traditional cigarettes, did not help with cravings and wanted to use them to know what it was like. 

The FDA declared the electronic cigarette an unapproved medical device. The agency began seizing shipments of e-cigarettes from China upon arrival at US Customs, setting the stage for the first major battle for e-cigarette availability.

According to, around 2009, Sottera, the parent company of e-cigarette brand Smoking Everywhere filed suit in US Federal Court against the FDA. The suit sought relief in the form of an injunction to stop the shipment seizures.

The company, later joined by another e-cigarette company won an injunction against the FDA. The FDA eventually turned around and released its now-infamous advisory press release claiming harmful ingredients in e-cigarette cartridges including diethylene glycol and carcinogens.

Soon after the FDA’s announcement, several nations either banned e-cigarettes outright or banned e-cigarettes that included nicotine. Among them were Canada, Australia, Panama, Israel, Jordan, and Brazil. Suffolk County, NY holds the dubious distinction of being the first US location to enact an indoor e-cigarette use ban.

Thailand and Singapore followed the other nations in banning e-cigarettes. During that time, the FDA first won an appeal against the injunction and then ultimately lost the case at the US Court of Appeals. The FDA declined to pursue the case to the Supreme Court.

The United States Air Force declared electronic cigarettes to be a tobacco product. The devices were included in the USAF’s broad smoking restrictions as a result.

In a turn of events, both the UK and the US saw their first large regional vape meets where vapers from all around met up to meet one another and swap war stories and tips.

Traditional cigarettes technically have more ingredients than e-cigs and most of them are considered poisonous. E-cigarettes technically have four to five. 

While it would be impossible to list every chemical and ingredient used in cigarettes, as there are thousands of them (over 500 alone added by the tobacco companies themselves as ingredients), a few of the more common, and worrisome, ingredients found in cigarettes include: tobacco, formaldehyde, arsenic, lead, cyanide, carbon monoxide, and methoprene and DDT.

E-cigs only contain vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine, flavoring and sometimes distilled water. 

Sources from, Public Health England have come out publicly stating that e-cigarettes are about 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. A 2017 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is beginning to help show the improved health of those using e-cigarettes versus those smoking the combustible version. The study reveals that former smokers who now vape are displaying significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens than what we see with those who are current smokers.

According to popular concerns, there is a truth that e-cigarettes can explode. It is more so the lithium-ion battery. Since e-cigarettes also contain a heating element, the risk of fire is a little greater than other devices. Nonetheless, e-cigarette explosions are rare and with a little education and awareness, any vaper can lessen the likelihood that an explosion could happen to them. A few things you can do to lower the risk:

  • Purchase from a reputable company and read vape reviews.
  • Only use the supplied charger that came with your device.
  • Carry your device safely – keep it out of pockets and purses with items like keys that can damage the battery.
  • Don’t leave your device unattended when charging.

The most common name is “e-cigarette,” but others such as e-cigs, vapes, vape pens, mods and tanks are common terms. Recently, the e-cigarette brand JUUL has become so ubiquitous among youth that “JUULing” is also used as a common verb for all e-cigarette use. For the purposes of this resource we refer to the entire category as “e-cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes have allowed companies to advertise through traditional outlets that have been heavily regulated to reduce combustible cigarette marketing to children. For example, e-cigarette advertising appears on television and radio, despite the ban on cigarette advertising in both outlets since Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act in 1970. The FDA also banned flavors, except menthol, in combustible cigarettes in 2009 to curb youth appeal, whereas e-cigarettes capitalize on offering many kid-friendly flavors, such as mint, cotton candy and gummy bear.

Taxes seem to be an effective tool for discouraging youth use of tobacco products. Youth and young adults are two to three times more likely to respond to changes in prices than adults, and studies examining the effect of price increases on combustible cigarettes estimate that raising the cost of cigarettes to $10 per pack nationwide would result in 4.8 million fewer smokers between the ages of 12 and 25.

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