There has been much debate in recent years as to whether electronic cigarettes, or ecigs are a healthier alternative to smoking. Ecig developers contest that not only are ecigs a healthier option, but they can also help a person eventually quit smoking. On the other hand, the FDA strongly encourages consumers to err on the side of caution until more research has been conducted. Whether or not electronic cigarette indeed prove to be better for you than traditional cigarettes, another question remains—are they better for the environment?
If the average smoker goes through 15 to 25 cigarettes on any given day, and there are roughly 1.3 billion smokers out there, the number of discarded cigarette butts adds up pretty quickly. Cigarette butts take about 5 years in a landfill to completely break down. However, the majority of these cigarette butts are not even disposed of properly (nearly 4.5 trillion annually). These small plastic tubes are the most littered object in the world. Furthermore, the majority of these cigarette butts still contain toxins and chemicals that are harmful to wildlife and eco-systems. When not properly disposed of, cigarette butts can be washed down storm drains and ingested by marine life. They can even affect our water source.
One advantage the electronic cigarette has over traditional cigarettes is that it significantly reduces waste. While traditional cigarettes are disposable, electronic cigarettes are reusable. The only waste associated with ecigs are used-up batteries (though some models are rechargeable) and empty nicotine liquid cartridges (which can also be filled multiple times if you choose). Ecigs also require less packaging, as each nicotine cartridge lasts about as long as a full pack of cigarettes, and are often sold in bulk.
Smoke from traditional cigarettes produces nearly 10 times the amount of air pollution as diesel engine exhaust. This is largely due to the more than 4,000 chemicals found in a single cloud of smoke, including carbon monoxide, tar, ammonia and formaldehyde. These harmful airborne chemicals not only affect the environment, but they also have a negative impact on human health. Secondhand smoke contributes to roughly 42,000 deaths each year.
While researchers are still determining the effects of “secondhand vapor” emitted from ecigs, some studies revealed no harmful substances in ecig vapor, including nicotine. A comparative study conducted by Clearstream Air measured the discharge of 19 cigarettes against the vapor from 1.5mL of nicotine liquid. While several pollutants were detected in the cigarette smoke, none were found in the ecig vapor. However, this is just one study, and more research needs to be done.
In conclusion, while it is unclear as to whether electronic cigarettes are a healthier choice than traditional cigarette, their relative impact on the environment is a bit more certain. If you have been considering making the switch to electronic cigarettes, remember that not all models are created equal. Some require more maintenance than others, and the nicer models can cost a few hundred dollars. In any case, adopting a “vaping” lifestyle, as opposed to smoking, is a simple and effective way to help the environment—and maybe save you a few dollars in the process.
Drew Kobb, in addition to studying civil law, loves long distance running and considers himself a health and fitness enthusiast. His interests range all over the medical field, and Drew highlights that range on his blog, Dr. Ouch. He also has a passion for the environment.