E-cigarettes are being touted as a healthier alternative to traditional smoking, primarily due to the lack of smoke and tar that is associated with their use. E-cigarettes, also known as vapes, use vapor technology, thereby creating a safer method of inhalation for tobacco users. Lately, however, reports have been surfacing suggesting there may be a link between the use of e-cigarettes and the presence of mold and other bacteria in a user’s lungs.
E-cigarette liquid is comprised of these main ingredients: water, propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, and nicotine. E-liquids also often contain flavoring to enhance the experience of inhaling the smoke-like vapor. These ingredients in and of themselves do not put a user at risk for coming into contact with bacteria and mold, so why are some now claiming that the use of e-cigarettes do just that?
Likely, the cause of these cases does have something to do with the use of e-cigarettes, but the e-liquid is not the guilty culprit. Hygiene, or rather lack thereof, is undoubtedly the most probable cause of these cases of mold. An informal study at Tulsa University recently showed that in a small sample of currently used e-cigarette devices, two-thirds of the samples detected the presence of mold, yeast and/or other kinds of bacteria. While the study was too small to be statistically valid, the presence of the bacteria strains is certainly a cause for concern. Dr. Mohammed Fakhry of Tulsa University found the samples he tested “were really full of a good number of bacteria species and also some fungi.” His suggestion is to put more emphasis on cleaning, he says his results are “a good reminder that you have to clean them out because there is high numbers [of bacteria], and even regular non-pathogenic bacteria in large numbers… you don’t know what they can do.”
Another study in San Diego focused on bacteria, and how they interact with the use of e-cigarettes. Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander of the University of California San Diego and the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, found in her study that the use of e-cigarettes could increase the aggressiveness of the bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus also known as MRSA. MRSA is most commonly seen as a skin infection. While the use of vapes does not introduce the bacteria in your system, it can make it more virulent.
Dr. Crotty Alexander suggested the rise in pH levels could be a contributing factor. When you inhale an e-cigarette vapor there is an increase in pH levels. This makes the environment in which bacteria can exist more alkalotic, stressing the cells and encouraging them to fight off the antimicrobial peptides that the body produces to kill them. The important thing to remember is while inhaling vapor can create an environment that encourages stronger bacteria, it can only do so if the bacteria are already present. In addition, while the use of e-cigarettes can strengthen these bacteria, the use of regular tobacco smoke can increase MRSA’s virulence even more. Regular tobacco smoke, according to Dr. Crotty Alexander, induces environmental changes that are 10-fold greater for the growth of bacteria than e-cigarette vapor.
E-cigarettes continue to be a safer alternative to traditional tobacco smoking, as long as proper hygiene is in place to combat mold and bacteria. In addition to regular cleaning, it is also recommended that users do not get in the habit of sharing their device with others, which increases the likelihood of different bacteria spreading. Whether you share or not, a proper cleaning ritual should be established.
While many distributors give instruction on cleaning when an e-cigarette device is sold, often cleaning sessions are too few and far between. In addition, most users carry their e-cigarette devices around in their pockets and purses, where they can easily come into contact with a host of bacteria that can put you at risk, especially when proper and regular cleaning is not in place. Manufacturers and many users also suggest cleaning your device often, recommending a good cleansing whenever you change or refill the vapor tank where the e-liquid is stored.
Tips for Cleaning:
When cleaning you should completely disassemble your e-cigarette device, and lay out all the pieces on a clean cloth or paper towel. Regular store bought rubbing alcohol is the most effective medium for cleaning your device. Slightly dampen a q-tip or a paper towel with a small amount of alcohol and apply to areas in need of cleaning. Make sure to wipe out the mouthpiece thoroughly as this is the most likely passage way of any mold or bacteria. Next, clean the threads connecting the mouthpiece, tank and atomizer.
If you are refilling your tank and not just replacing it, you’ll want to be careful to clean it thoroughly before inserting new e-liquid. You can use hot water to flush out the tank and rinse out the wick. Moisture can build up inside the tank, especially after multiple fills, not cleaning after every refill can increase the likelihood of a bacteria or mold problem arising. Make sure the wick and the tank are completely dry before you fill it with the e-liquid of your choice.
While you are cleaning you should also make sure to clean the connection points for your battery. If this part is not cleaned properly the device may not take a full charge and inhibit the functionality and the enjoy-ability of the e-cigarette experience.
If this all seems a little bit daunting, do not fear. A little bit of care is a small price to pay for the benefits that e-cigarettes offer. Most stores will walk through the cleaning process with you. Videos on how to clean your vape are also available online to help you master all the important steps.
Regular cleaning should keep the bacteria and mold at bay and keep your vape working smoothly. With proper maintenance and care, e-cigarettes will remain the safer alternative for the use of tobacco, eliminating than the smoke and tar you get with traditional cigarette smoke.