What began as a smoking cessation tool and cigarette alternative, electronic cigarettes–or e-cigs–have become a booming business and popular trend.  Originally, just a cigarette-shaped device for nicotine delivery, they now run the gamut from disposables to fancy glass-crafted “tank style” devices aficionados fill with a dizzying array of nicotine or nicotine-free flavors at one of the many “vapor bars” popping up across the country.

Here’s how they work: A drag on the device activates release or heating up of liquid nicotine, which can then be inhaled, generating a vapor cloud that looks similar to a cigarette puff. But are these battery-operated gizmos safe? Research has yet to catch up with the runaway craze for haze, but two recent studies provide cause for concern.

Scientists from the Roswell Cancer Park Institute in Buffalo, NY, looked at the risk of “second hand” e-cigarette smoke and the accuracy of product labels. Their two soon-to-be-published studies in the peer-reviewed journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research examined a handful of carcinogens, including cancer-causing formaldehyde in tank-style e-cigarettes, the kind that vaporizes liquid nicotine quicker and more intensely than other e-cigarettes.  The first study found that release of toxins intensified as the electrical energy output increased from 3.2 to 4.8 volts, suggesting users might be exposed “to the same, or even higher, levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde as tobacco smoke when e-cigarettes are operated at higher voltages.”

The second study from RTI International, a North Carolina research institute. found that up to 40% of the tiny particles created by e-cig vapor can reach the shallowest parts of the lungs, possibly creating or aggravating respiratory diseases, such as asthma or bronchitis.

Both studies conclude that concentrated heat can change the make-up of e-liquids, invent new ones, and cause implications for the user and passers-by.  While more research is needed, initial findings indicate that “vaping” may not be as victimless as fans would like to believe.

If you are trying to quit smoking, e-cigs are not necessarily a harmless alternative, and if you are just picking up the habit for fun, consider that nicotine essentially constricts blood flow.  For a better way to replace bad habits with good ones, picking up a piece of fruit can put you on the path to better health in several ways. Choosing low-calorie, high-fiber produce over empty-calorie junk food will help you avoid the weight gain some quitters fear when going cold turkey. Whereas cigarettes deplete the body’s stores of vitamin C, most fruits and veggies will help you replenish this important free-radical scavenging antioxidant.

 Published June 1, 2014