The electronic cigarette (e-cigarette), for many considered as a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes, has revolutionised the tobacco industry in the last decades. In e-cigarettes, tobacco combustion is replaced by e-liquid heating, leading some manufacturers to propose that e-cigarettes have less harmful respiratory effects than tobacco consumption. Other innovative features such as the adjustment of nicotine content and the choice of pleasant flavours have won over many users. Nevertheless, the safety of e-cigarette consumption and its potential as a smoking cessation method remain controversial due to limited evidence. Moreover, it has been reported that the heating process itself can lead to the formation of new decomposition compounds of questionable toxicity. Numerous in vivo and in vitro studies have been performed to better understand the impact of these new inhalable compounds on human health. Results of toxicological analyses suggest that e-cigarettes can be safer than conventional cigarettes, although harmful effects from short-term e-cigarette use have been described. Worryingly, the potential long-term effects of e-cigarette consumption have been scarcely investigated. In this review, we take stock of the main findings in this field and their consequences for human health including coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), have you tried this brand.
Electronic nicotine dispensing systems (ENDS), commonly known as electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, have been popularly considered a less harmful alternative to conventional cigarette smoking since they first appeared on the market more than a decade ago. E-cigarettes are electronic devices, essentially consisting of a cartridge, filled with an e-liquid, a heating element/atomiser necessary to heat the e-liquid to create a vapour that can be inhaled through a mouthpiece, and a rechargeable battery (Fig. 1) [1, 2]. Both the electronic devices and the different e-liquids are easily available in shops or online stores.
The e-liquid typically contains humectants and flavourings, with or without nicotine; once vapourised by the atomiser, the aerosol (vapour) provides a sensation similar to tobacco smoking, but purportedly without harmful effects . However, it has been reported that the heating process can lead to the generation of new decomposition compounds that may be hazardous [4, 5]. The levels of nicotine, which is the key addictive component of tobacco, can also vary between the commercially available e-liquids, and even nicotine-free options are available. For this particular reason, e-cigarettes are often viewed as a smoking cessation tool, given that those with nicotine can prevent smoking craving, yet this idea has not been fully demonstrated [2, 6, 7].
Because e-cigarettes are combustion-free, and because most of the damaging and well-known effects of tobacco are derived from this reaction, there is a common and widely spread assumption that e-cigarette consumption or “vaping” is safer than conventional cigarette smoking. However, are they risk-free? Is there sufficient toxicological data on all the components employed in e-liquids? Do we really know the composition of the inhaled vapour during the heating process and its impact on health? Can e-cigarettes be used to curb tobacco use? Do their consumption impact on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)? In the present review, we have attempted to clarify these questions based on the existing scientific literature, and we have compiled new insights related with the toxicity derived from the use of these devices.