Celebrities like Johnny Depp and Katherine Heigl have claimed it helped them quit smoking. Maybe you’ve seen people in non-smoking bars exhaling what seems like smoke from one. It often looks like a cigarette, even tastes like it, but it’s not. It’s an electronic cigarette, an alternative to cigarette smoking that supposedly has fewer chemicals and is becoming increasingly popular.
“Some companies have various flavors,” said Tad Fox, an electronic cigarette smoker. “If they aren’t specifically tobacco flavored, they remind me of smoking from a hookah, only with a little different sting on the back of your throat. Tobacco flavors can be pretty similar to cigarettes.”
The debate rages as to the safety of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, but are these little devices better for the environment?
The improper disposal of cigarette filters is a huge problem, contributing to the U.S.’s annual $11.5 billion cost to clean up litter.
Despite the fact that smoking has decreased in the U.S. by 28 percent in the past decade, cigarette butts remain the most littered item, and they account for 38 percent of litter worldwide.
During the International Coastal Cleanup last year, more than 2 million cigarette butts were collected, accounting for 21 percent of the 7.4 million pounds of debris that were collected.
To make matters worse, 95 percent of cigarette filters are made cellulose acetate, a kind of plastic that doesn’t degrade easily. In fact, it takes about 12 years for one to break down.
While e-cigarettes certainly cut down on cigarette butt pollution, there is still the matter of proper disposal.
E-cigarettes generally have a cartridge that contains flavors and nicotine in liquid form, a heating element and a battery that supplies power to heat the liquid. Many models allow the battery to recharge by plugging it into an outlet.
Fox said that time of use depends a lot on the brand. “Batteries can vary in life, and if you get one that has a separate atomizer to the cartridge, you’ll have to replace that part. But the best answer is when you no longer have the need to smoke.”
Once the e-cigarette device becomes obsolete, it shouldn’t be tossed in the trash.
“E-waste” is usually defined as anything that plugs into a wall or uses batteries. E-cigarettes can do both.
While the act of recycling this kind of e-waste shouldn’t be a problem, it might be hard to find a recycler that will accept electronic cigarettes, as many of them specialize in more universal waste, like televisions and computers.
Portions of the device, such as the battery, might be accepted by your local household hazardous waste collection facility, but check with the facility first.
Nearly all electronic cigarette companies are tight-lipped about the number of units they’ve sold, but there’s no denying that they are catching on among recovering smokers, especially when one cartridge equates to a pack of cigarettes and a pack of five cartridges can range between $6 and $10.
Just last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lost an appeal that would have allowed the regulation of e-cigarettes as drugs or drug devices. Currently, the administration can oversee marketing as tobacco products, but cannot restrict their sale, meaning these gadgets may become more prevalent.
Despite whether they really help people quit smoking or they are healthier than regular cigarettes, electronic cigarettes can cut down on pollution as long as they are disposed of properly.
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