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E-cigarettes: Six things you may not have known (or considered) about the growing phenomenon

Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Monday, September 1, 2014, 11:01 AM -

Smoking kills. We've all known this for at least 50 years -- and yet millions still light up, while thousands more pick up the habit every year. 

Why? Addiction.

Nicotine is a powerful drug that speeds up the brain and central nervous system. The toxic colourless oily liquid triggers the release of a chemical in your brain (dopamine) that boosts your mood, makes you feel calm, and at the same time, makes you feel more alert. 

According to the Canadian Lung Association, over time, a smoker’s brain adjusts to the "buzz" from nicotine and lowers their natural energy level or mood. That's when they may start to crave another cigarette for a boost...and so the cycle continues for months, and for most, years. 

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Being without nicotine for even a few hours can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, depression, anger, anxiety, and problems sleeping -- so it's no wonder why so many have a hard time kicking the habit. 

While for years pharmaceutical companies have offered various medicines and methods to help smokers quit (i.e.: patch, gum, inhalers, etc.), none have stirred up as much controversy as the growing phenomenon: the electric cigarette. 

Since its introduction to North America in 2007, millions have found electronic cigarettes (or E-cigarettes) to be the best alternative to smoking tobacco. But does that render them safe? Could second hand smoke from e-ciggys cause harm to your health? Heck, what are they even made of? 

To help you get a better understanding, here's a look at six things you may have not known about e-cigarettes -- some good, some bad, and some downright ugly.

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1. What is an e-cigarette? 

E-cigarettes, which simulate real cigarettes, give off vapour and contain nicotine but no tobacco. In other words, the slender electronic device imitates conventional smoking by vaporizing liquid nicotine. 

E-cigarette can also give a "smoker" a similar buzz to conventional cigarettes -- only the buzz comes through vapor and not highly toxic cigarette smoke. 

When a user "inhales" on the mouthpiece, it powers up the device. It then vaporizes some of the liquid nicotine, which is located in an insertable cartridge. The vaporized nicotine then flows through cigarette look-alike and into the user’s mouth. According to Popular Science, each hit contains 90 per cent of the nicotine from a conventional cigarette puff.

The device can come in all shapes and sizes, but look eerily similar to the real thing. 

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2. What makes e-cigarette vapor different than tobacco smoke? 

E-cigarettes contain absolutely no tobacco (or any other toxic chemicals, such as arsenic, added by tobacco companies). Instead, they vaporize liquid nicotine -- or "e-juice" -- with perhaps a little bit of flavouring. 

Another key difference: tobacco is burned and inhaled as pungent smoke, while its electronic counterpart just heats up liquid nicotine to turn it into an odorless vapour.

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3. Are e-cigarettes harmful to your health? 

In the haze of incomplete data, scientists are divided over the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes. Research is still limited, but the general consensus so far is that they carry various health risks, even if the risks aren't as outstandingly bad as conventional cigarettes.

While advocates claim that they are useful devices in weaning smokers off the real-thing, critics, including the Canadian Cancer Society, argue that they can still cause harm to both smokers and second-hand smokers. 

"Of the 13 products tested, nine were found to have considerable irregularities and only four conformed to their labels. Even more worrying is that products labelled as “nicotine-free” hardly passed the test because two-thirds (6/9) were in fact found to contain it," the Quebec division of the Canadian Cancer Society said in a statement last fall.

The biggest review of the research on e-cigarettes to date, published by the American Heart Association, concluded that e-cigarettes emit numerous harmful toxins and could lead to detrimental health effects, although the long-term biological effects need more study. Researchers also found that some studies pushed in favour of e-cigarettes contained fatal errors that could suggest seriously flawed, overly optimistic results in favour of e-cigarettes.

Health experts say further data and experiments are needed

NEXT PAGE: E-cigarettes spark heated political debate, can they help smokers quit, and dramatic video of what an e-cigarette EXPLOSION looks like!

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