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ENDS: Predictions for 2014

Some thoughts about where 2014 will take Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS).

ENDS, or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, have really broken out this year. Some predictions seem in order for next year. If only to turn out wrong, predicting the future is an enjoyable exercise, considering how large systems will proceed based on limited information.

My main thought for 2014 comes from the trends over 2013 and earlier. 2013 has seen variable airflow control. Variable wattage and voltage were earlier developments.

Some have said variable juice flow will be coming, and I think that’s a good prediction. The main hurdle there is the differences in viscosity between different juices. Different mechanisms may perform differently at different viscosities, and different viscosities may perform differently at different flow levels. As far as I know there isn’t much data on the latter, and no data on the former, at least not in this realm/for this use.

But I believe variable resistance will also become available. The ability to change resistance on the fly may seem complicated at first, but it’s actually rather simple. The device can have fixed leads that move along the resistance element, and wherever they contact, however much resistance material they cover, defines the resistance.

This may mean non-wire resistance elements (eg, preformed or molded shapes with fixed resistance-per-millimeter and surface area) or a self-coiling feed mechanism (such that wire would be shaped into a coil as fed through the device), or maybe even both.

Non-wire elements may catch on now or later. What form they take may vary. For example, they might have stamped wicking slots, or may be designed to be surrounded by wicks/wicking material. Wicking slots may double as resistance stops: places that the leads may lock onto the element.

Depending on the direction that variable juice flow takes, wickless may also be possible with channels in the resistance material (either capillary effect or gravity-fed).

Wire-feed elements seem like a strong candidate as well. Wire already exists in a variety of gauges, and there is some existing know-how for feeding wire through a system. The main obstacle here seems the wicking of the auto-coiled wire. The wick will probably need a separate, integrated feed system.

Being able to vary resistance will be useful for a few reasons:

  1. Widens the types of devices that can be “rebuildable” without meaning they have to be of footprints that make it easy to manually rebuild.
  2. Augments the benefits of variable juice flow designs, possibly with a tandem control (ie, only certain flows will be available at certain resistances).
  3. Aids in safety/compatibility (eg, some devices only accept resistances above a certain level, while certain batteries are only rated to output a certain amperage).

As all of the various factors of electronically vaporized nicotine become variable, new understandings of the entire system will develop. Once you have control over airflow, power, juice, and resistance, you can likely find certain cross-tolerances. That’s similar to the charts showing the best power levels for given resistances.

We may see a move away from heat vaporization altogether. For now, it will be interesting to see how things develop.

Of course, 2014 will almost surely finally see the F.D.A. regulations, which may change the industry considerably, so this prediction may be premature.

Understanding Harm in Electronically Vaporized Nicotine Products

An attempt to explain the idea of a baseline risk profile for electronically vaporized nicotine, which should be the basis for discussing risk in their usage.

There are a large number of legislative and public-health efforts surrounding electronic vaporizers of nicotine-containing liquids. Some positive, some negative. Likewise, a large number of studies are either underway or have been conducted. Some positive, some negative.

But at the base of the questions comes a single question: how do we quantify the potential harm?

For this we turn to what we can call risk profiles. We’ll start with an unrelated subject: knives.

There’s an anecdote that says roughly that the duller the knife, the less safe it is. How can that be? Well, we can imagine all the potential knifes, from blunt to dull to barely sharp to razor. The duller end of the spectrum tends to require more cutting force, which leads to a greater potential for that force to become misdirected or wild. A sharper knife also tends to command more attention to handling, more respect.

And so on. So we look at so-called e-cigarettes.

One study purports to find minute levels (but not levels that raise concern compared to current occupational guidelines) of certain metals. The methodology of this study may have other issues, but take it as granted for the moment that for the tested devices these metals are present in minute levels. This is an increase in the risk of these particular devices.

But we want a baseline risk profile. A baseline gives us the ability to ascertain the ideal level of risk for any actual use. It gives us something to compare actual risk against. While we can compare risk to the control, or to the cigarette, comparing to a meaningful baseline gives us a better gauge of how much risk we are adding in a more complex scenario, rather than relative to control or to cigarettes.

What’s safest, according to what we know? A dripping atomizer made of a well-machined, clean, single, high-purity/surgical-grade metal. A coil made of clean resistance wire and with a silica wick. Juice made with only propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and nicotine (no flavoring). A device that heats the coil only enough to vaporize the liquid.

This would be something close to the baseline. It is a conservative set-up. You remove as many extra parts as possible. No filler, no cotton, no non-resistance wire, no solder joining non-resistance to resistance wire, no rubber o-rings, etc. You still need an insulator to separate the positive and negative posts, but that can be ceramic, and contact with the vaporization chamber and juice can be minimized.

With a baseline setup, the risk seems to come down to three substances in very low levels. Formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein may be present at low levels. The less heat, the less chance of them being present and the lower levels they will be found at. Acrolein will be entirely absent unless excessive heat is being produced (280°C) in vegetable glycerin.

In all likelihood the risk of the baseline is significantly lower than the average North American diet. But that’s the baseline. The more complex the setup (adding a plastic tank (glass maintains the low risk), cotton wick (that’s organic and capable of burning in contact with a coil if dry), rubber (o-rings and insulators), solder, and flavorings) all add potential increases to the baseline harm.

The baseline has very minimal harm potential. Low enough that adding it to your normal life should not increase risk significantly. That’s what the data says today, anyway. And compared to the levels of volatile organic compounds in actual cigarettes (which do contain a significant risk, but not an absolute risk like being shot point-blank as the risk is often portrayed in the media), it is low enough risk that wasting time on public-use bans and other inanities miss the point.

Even the more complex vaping scenarios still stay well below the risk of traditional cigarettes and many other daily risks.

The Food and Drug Administration should be proposing their regulations for electronically vaporized nicotine products in the near future.

Public Perception’s Role

Our problems are all the same, risk balancing. But emotion and profit cloud our judgments, and we suffer for it.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has finalized their latest report on climate change. It’s a very complex issue, involving a very complex system of input energy from the sun, water in various forms, air and water currents, reflectivity and absorption of electromagnetic radiation, and biological lifecycles. Farming techniques. Transportation and energy generation. Fossil fuel extraction and use. Market economics.

Recently ProPublica ran a series of articles on Acetaminophen (Paracetamol, or Tylenol™) (ProPublica: Series: 20 September 2013: Overdose), regarding the dangers surrounding one of the most commonly consumed medications in the world.

The Affordable Care Act’s exchanges and open enrollment period will begin on Tuesday 1 October 2013. But will it mean the end of the republic? Or a great new day for the health of the people?

Nicotine-containing liquids and cartridges of vaporizers will likely soon be deemed as tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In preparation for the release, 40 attorneys general and a bevy of supposed public health organizations have rallied their mouthpieces to call for tough regulations.

People with guns keep killing people, stoking more and more debate over the role of guns and gun owners in society.

These things have in common one key factor: public perception, or at least the appearance of public perception.

At least in the case of Tylenol™, most people believe it’s safe. They believe it is safer than it is, at least in some instances. So, the argument goes, oughtn’t people be made aware of the exact dangers?

Ah, but the debate counters, it might stop people from using it out of fear, and that could indeed lead to harm, too. For example, someone might forgo a regiment of an analgesic like Tylenol™ when they have a high fever, and that could make matters worse.

And there we have the gist of these issues: risk balancing. Public perception deems some risks unacceptable, others acceptable.

But that’s not the nature of these debates, unfortunately. If these debates were predicated on finding our best tolerance for risks, we would be successful. But these debates are muddied by non-risk issues, such as profits for certain industries, or emotional appeals by people who have been victims or lost loved ones to particular diseases or behaviors.

The result is further muddiment: the side believing that the risk is too high or too low, faced with opposition using emotion or profit motives, slings back. Escalation.

But one of the keys is the tendency to equate property with self, and to equate company or incorporation with family or nation. That is, people will defend land as though it is an extension of the self, and will defend their employer as though it were their kin. To the extent that they put these things above the common good.

This is all seen as rather normal and in some cases laudable.

But the real measure of truth is putting the data forward in as clear a way as possible. Letting people decide their own risk tolerance, where possible. We don’t see that happening as much as it could. We see the opposite: companies trying to thwart the scientific evaluation of climate change. No improved information on the potential dangers of over-the-counter pain relievers. Sad attempts to demonize health insurance reform efforts, rather than the facts about the options for future reforms, including tradeoffs. Efforts to portray nicotine vaporizers as just as bad as smoking, undermining public health. And gun debates that focus on everything except the underlying problems that lead to violence: economics and mental health.

We seem to avoid real solutions in favor of addressing our unhappiness that our problems exist.