Did you know cigarette smoke (not e-cig vapor) contains deadly carbon monoxide?

According to the U.S. Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 50,000 people every year visit the emergency room for accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.  During last week’s cold snap throughout the Midwest, thousands of Texans took to their cars to say warm after the power grid failed for nearly a week and water pipes began bursting in residences and businesses across the state. At least 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning were reported in Harris County alone with at least two reported fatalities.

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer.  Yet most Americans are completely unaware that their favorite tobacco cigarettes produce a toxic smoke that is laced with this deadly chemical.  E-cigarette vapor, on the other hand, is completely free of carbon monoxide, according to a recent study conducted by scientists of three major American universities. 

Researchers from New York University, the University of Vermont, and the University of Nebraska joined together to answer an important question.  Is vaping really as hazardous to one’s health as smoking? 

As world-class scientists, they were already familiar with a decades-old statement about smoking made in 1976 by the Dr. Michael Russell, a pioneer in the field of tobacco harm minimization.  Russell is famously quoted as saying, “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar.”

Here’s the thing.  The science shows that the only way to produce smoke that is infused with toxic tar is to burn tobacco leaves and inhale the smoke.   The three-university research team also knew that when tobacco leaves are burned, they also give off a toxic carbon monoxide gas.  They had also learned through their research that the e-liquids used in vaping are completely tobacco-free.  Therefore, the vapor produced from vaping products should also be completely free of carbon monoxide, right?

This hypothesis was the basis of their experimental research—of which their findings are published in a new study entitled, Harm Minimization and Tobacco Control: Reframing Societal Views of Nicotine Use to Rapidly Save Lives (NCBI).  Led by Dr. David Abrams of New York University, the scientists came to the following determinations.

“E-cigarette aerosol is very different (than combustible tobacco smoke). E-cigarettes do not contain any tobacco and do not produce carbon monoxide. The harm continuum emphasizes a key point: It is not that e-cigarettes are completely safe, or even the safest nicotine-containing product available, but that they are much safer than smoking. NRTs are safe enough that CDER approved them for over-the-counter consumer use more than two decades ago. Long-term use of NRT has been endorsed as an acceptable strategy to reduce morbidity and mortality from smoking.”

The Abrams team also makes mention of a rather common misconception among average Americans and even a significant percentage of the medical community.  Namely, the researchers point out that just because both vaping and smoking products contain nicotine doesn’t necessarily mean that they are equally as lethal. 

Nicotine, they state, is proven to be non-carcinogenic.  And further research indicates that when adult smokers transition completely to nicotine-infused vaping, their myocardial and respiratory functions show tremendous improvements within the first seven days.

“For most smokers, there is little evidence that nicotine itself causes any of these classes of disease when decoupled from smoke (see details in Niaura et al., 2016…Although nicotine use poses some risk for cardiovascular disease, it is dwarfed by the risk posed by smoking cigarettes...Nicotine itself does not appear to cause cancer, even in former smokers who use low nitrosamine snus for decades…Smokers switching to vaping have experienced improved lung capacity and less frequent asthma…Evidence also indicates that nicotine itself is relatively safe when obtained from CDER-approved over-the-counter NRT (nicotine replacement therapies), widely used for smoking cessation.”

In short, vaping is not the enemy here.  Neither is nicotine.  The true adversary in this story is tobacco, because the burning of tobacco leaves coats the smoker’s lungs and airways with thick gooey tar which can lead to disease and even death.  The burning of tobacco leaves associated with smoking—not vaping— is also solely responsible for the excess carbon monoxide found in the bodily systems of almost all regular smokers.