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June 3rd, 2010
12:18 PM ET

My boss smokes e-cigarettes in the office. Is this safe?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Thien Pham, Laramie, WY

“I have a supervisor who is starting to smoke electronic cigarettes in his office. I am wondering what the secondhand smoking health effect is from electronic smoke (such as e-smoke products). Is it legal for people to smoke e-cigarettes inside? Thank you.”

Answer:

This is a great question, Thien, because the mere concept of an electronic cigarette is confusing for folks. These electronic alternatives to conventional cigarettes are touted as a safe alternative to smoking. The suggestion is that secondhand vapor from an e-cigarette might be safe too.

Well, not so fast. The safety record for e-smoke products and the vapor they emit thus far is, well, hazy. There have been no studies about safety for these products in the U.S.

First, it is important to know the difference between an e-cigarette and a conventional one. E-cigarettes, since they are not lit by fire, skip the combustion process. So there is no smoldering, smoky burn at the tip like you would see when lighting a conventional cigarette. Instead, e-cigarettes contain liquid nicotine encased in a plastic filter. When you take a "puff" or inhale on this cigarette surrogate, a small battery warms the nicotine in that filter, creating a thin stream of vapor when exhaled.

Right now, there is no federal ban on indoor e-cigarette smoking, although there are states such as New Jersey that are trying. New Jersey's argument is based, in part, on a recent Food and Drug Administration analysis of ingredients contained in these products. Turns out that despite that lack of combustion, some of the most popular e-cigarette brands contain carcinogens - they could still cause cancer. The FDA has also detected a toxic chemical found in antifreeze in some leading brands.

That means that although manufacturers of these e-cigarettes say they are pretty sure their product is safe, the jury is still out about the health effects (and consequently secondhand effects) with e-cigarettes.

Another argument for safety by e-cigarette manufacturers is that they contain nicotine, but none of the other harmful additives in cigarettes. Nicotine on its own is highly addictive and we do not know yet the the health effects of inhaling pure nicotine, nor do we know what could happen if those toxic substances the FDA found could harm folks in close proximity to the "e-smoker."

In a nutshell, until we know more, you may want to - protectively - steer clear from your supervisor's office.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Filed under: Cancer • Expert Q&A • Smoking

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soundoff (263 Responses)
  1. buy e cigarette online

    On a visit to tescos today i noticed they have cigarettes now away from view due to a new uk law which starts in april stopping shops from having tobacco on view

    March 3, 2012 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. buy e cigarette online

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    March 3, 2012 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thomas wyatt

      wyattvapors.com is an excellent choice and with good prices.

      August 1, 2013 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
  3. Jason Leigh

    Eight weeks ago today (Wed., 4/11/12), I stopped smoking cigarettes when my e-cig kit arrived. I had spent several days researching e-cigs for not only which was the best brand/company to buy, but also, what were the side-effects, contents; etc. E-cigs made sense to me, since the patches gave me a rash, an Rx only made me sleepy and the gum all failed to help me quit. I read books, listened to hypnotic audio tapes and went to Groups.Nothing worked until I started 'vaping' the e-cigs. On day three of quiting 'killer cigs,' I could feel my lungs were starting to clear up! After about one week; I no longer 'wheezed.' It was not until this past Easter with family that I wanted to dig deeper into possible second-hand effects. I've spent all day today reading articles and studies, but this CNN article is right on target. We all need to consider each other, and others have made me feel like a leper of olden days when I smoked. In closing, e-cigs have helped me to quit killer cigarettes when all else failed. Non-smokers and non-e-cig vapers should remember that we, too, have rights, and until e-cigs are PROVEN to be a real health risk for all of us; please give us some space to heal from the poisons of killer cigarettes. After all; drinking is legal almost everywhere and is a proven killer of the human body and yet, the public allows it.

    April 11, 2012 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aaron

      Un, it's illegal to be smashed on public property.

      April 17, 2012 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      And Tyler, drunk drivers get in wrecks everyday. Ive never heard of a cigarette taking out two car fulls of people cus one driver was drunk.

      April 17, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
    • nova

      hi jason am considering buying ecigarettes online have been told about vapestick uk and was wondering where you buy yours if you do not mind sharing, am a smoker and enjoy but the expense and the negativity of it is changing my mind kind regards nova

      June 10, 2012 at 10:06 | Report abuse |
    • Kyle MA

      Mr. Leigh, you make a solid point. To quit smoking is extremely difficult..Good on ya!
      In response to Tyler, I don't think J. Leigh was "comparatively" referring to alcohol and e-cig, the statement appeared to be for "perspective" purposes. COMPARATIVE would be more closely define discussing "second hand vapor" injury against "lack of" second hand alcohol deaths.. DUI fatalities are 2nd degree murder, and a terrible thing that happens EVERY DAY
      Also regarding this Tyler per

      July 22, 2012 at 02:20 | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      @Tyler
      Everytime someone is killed by a drunk driver, someone dies from second hand alcohol.
      Dont be a snob, your probably an alcoholic.

      2) google searched. more ppl die from drunks each year then second hand smoke
      so chew on that one.

      August 22, 2012 at 01:50 | Report abuse |
    • Anne

      So here is my quick story. I was a pack a day Marlboro 100's girl. I hated the smell it left on my hands and clothes and even though my husband never complained I knew that he would have loved me not smelling like the bottom of an ash tray, not to mention all the shame that went with it but I LOVED to smoke and I was addicted.
      So my doctor informs me that I have TWO DAYS to quit before he will preform an elective surgery. 'My choice', he says. As the blood in my face is draining somewhere I try not to faint. He wants me clear of smoke three weeks before and two weeks after the surgery, he tells me that more oxygen to the system will promote the healing process. 'Oh and since you will be smoke free for 5 weeks, why not quit for good?' grin on his face. You got to love the guy for trying.
      I went on line and ordered the best e-cigarette on the market and overnight express it and prayed that it will pacify me for 5 weeks. It was an overnight success! It was just like smoking a real cigarette. It has been a week now and I no longer smell like an ash tray. My sense of smell is coming back and I Do Not crave anything or am overeating like what happens when you normally quit. It is a total success!. I will no longer go back. I am a true converter. Thanks Doc!

      September 13, 2012 at 10:25 | Report abuse |
    • BitTorrent

      Jason, Smokers have never been a protected class. You can chooset to smoke. But unlike drinking, smoke, vapor whatever, doesn't end with the user. Smoking is not requirement for work to get done at the work place. Non-smokers shouldn't have to be subjected to your vices just like alcohol is not tolerated in most work environments.

      December 5, 2012 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
    • Daniel Lasher

      "I have yet to hear of people being hurt by secondhand alcohol"....Really....I have yet to hear of someone being drunk off of cigarettes and killing a while family while driving.

      With that said, I have to agree that yes electronic cigarettes contain carcinogens, but has anyone ever checked how much carcinogens. One thing you need to understand, NOTHING in this world is 100% safe and when you have studies funded by big money that have a potential to lose big profits (tobacco-industry, anyone) then your going to hear results like that. I would like to see studies with these e-cigs carcinogen levels compared side by side to actual cigarettes.

      As someone who smoked for 15 years, I feel healthier than I have in several years. Ask anyone who has switched what they think.

      January 30, 2013 at 09:36 | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Jason I just read your response about the E-cig and how being a Vaper is much more safe then the killer cigarette. I stand behind that 100 percent. and I find it funny that people can down you for comparing this issue to the issue of alcohal is it is a killer yet still legal in most parts of the world. its sad people want to complain about smokers, but not drinkers. most i have found were in fact drinkers haha. I am a none drinker myself. so I do not go out to places where drinking is socially excepted. and I dont down those people for what they do. so as a smoker who recently became a Vaper addict to the Vapors of the E-cig back up folks, and commend those who have given up smoking not only to better our own lives. but your lives as well. I originally quit for the benefit of my girlfriend. but as time goes on I am learning the personal benefits of not smoking, I smell better, I feel better I breath better, I am all around better. I can smell things I havent been able to smell in many years, why because I am not a walking ashtray as well as the fact my senses are not def due to cigarette smoke anymore. awesome stuff. and one that wont last for ever either. one day I will walk away from these all together. but until then Vap on buddy!

      February 14, 2013 at 08:54 | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Tyler, as you may be a life long non smoker you are greatly WRONG about the effects of second hand drinkers. daily people die because of idiots who drink and get behind the wheel. children are born with health issues and defects due to over excessive drinking fathers and mothers who still drink during pregnancy, so you have never heard of effects of second hand drinking? I wish I lived in the same perfect world you do. or is that the just the perfect ignorant life you wish to lead? you want respect give respect. there is no harm in smoking an E-cig. and you wish to say that is not good enough? lol I am ashamed to have read your post my friend. its like saying there is no difference when in fact their are over 4000 difference between a real cigarette and an E-cig. and again on the second hand drinking. please open your eyes and look around you. you will see those effects you have chosen to put blinders on.

      February 14, 2013 at 08:59 | Report abuse |
    • MoonButterfly

      @Tyler do you wear a mask while taking a shower? If not perhaps you should because your being exposed to second hand vapor. Just saying.

      March 28, 2013 at 11:14 | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Until e-cigarettes are PROVEN to be completely safe, please be considerate and do not "vape" it next to me.

      March 28, 2013 at 13:29 | Report abuse |
  4. Andrew

    I am not sure what the answer means by toxic substance found in antifreeze. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, not propylene glycol which is found in e-cigagrettes. The toxicity of ethylene glycol is metabolic acidosis and kidney injury but requires an amount more than would be found in an e-cig if it had ethylene glycol – which it doesnt. Propylene glycol has been deemed safe by the FDA – atleast in my limited research which is by no means conclussive. Other ingredients involved iclude water and ethanol, not really a concern in this context.

    I am very interested in the safety of this product as well, and as of yet I am not a hundred percent sure. But I am sure it is much safer than regular cigarettes.

    April 29, 2012 at 17:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Andrew

    I meant to say this up here rather and p[lease give it thought.

    For the record i think we should all be aware of bias.... Heroin (Diamorphine) is a pain killer with virtually no difference than the Morphine or Demerol you get in the hospital for that busted leg... It even has been proven one cant tell the difference if they are attenuated to be equal.

    Yet who wouldnt be upset to hear upon arriving to the hospital that they put your mother on heroin for a kidney stone? (Exception being England as it does indeed give Diamorphine in medicine)

    The point is all of you would smack around the Doc if you heard a relative was being given Heroin... Yet the facts prove that it is just another powerful painkiller that has advantages and weaknesses but is otherwise just as dangerous as morphine. THIS KIND OF BIAS IS THE SAME as what Non-smokers feel about loaded words like 'Smoking' 'Nicotine' or much more strongly the SIGHT of seeing someone puff and the expel a cloud... ANY of you who should be against E-cigs should be ashamed and learn about your own Bias!

    June 1, 2012 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BitTorrent

      Bias? That's ridiculous. What if someone lit a incense candle at work? It's technically safe but that person just imposed their will on the workforce around him. That person just made a choice for the group to breath in whatever was being let off by that candle. How about someone playing the radio outloud at work? You're now forced to listen to whatever that person chooses. Those things are not needed for work, do it outside or at home. At work, people are a captive audience.

      December 5, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Good point BitTorrent, we should keep people from doing anything that imposes on someone else. Perfume and cologne could impose on someones sense of smell, better stop that. Or coffee, that should never be brewed because of the smell. And honestly, have any studies been done on the effects of coffee vapors? I honestly think every needs to stop being crybaby victims and just leave people alone. Next time you want to tell someone that they offended you in someway, don't. Be a decent person and SHUT UP

      November 7, 2013 at 10:03 | Report abuse |
  6. Ian

    Being an owner of an electronic cigarette company I had only 1 issue with the answer to this post. The "harmful" ingredient that is found in antifreeze is called Propylene Glycol. Take a look at the ingredients in Duncan Hines cake mix or most dipping sauces from fast food chains.
    You will find this same ingredient in all of them. It can be found in a number of places and there is a pharmaceutical grade referred to as PG400, this is the grade that most of the electronic cigarette companies use. I do understand that there are some companies out there just looking for the cheapest way to manufacture this product so it really depends on the brand.

    The FDA has not done any testing on the propylene glycol used in electronic cigarettes but they did do a test on the use in smoke (fog) machines used and was classified and "Generally Recognized as safe"

    I agree that there should be more testing on this product. I know what my manufacturer is using and I take pride in knowing that I offer my customers a quality product.

    It's a little aggravating to hear people compare the the "harmful ingredient used in antifreeze" to the product used in most electronic cigarette brands.

    June 17, 2012 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cian

      And even if your concerned about propylene glycol they sell vegetable glycerin based e-cig fluid as well. I get mine from Johnson Creek. All United States pharmacopeia grade ingredients sourced here in the US. They even post the lab results on the site.

      August 6, 2012 at 19:56 | Report abuse |
    • ROb

      As a person who has to sit next to someone who smokes one of the e-cigarettes everyday all day long I have a concern. I find that my eyes are watering and I notice a odor that is bothering me. I don't want to lose my job but there is something about the smoke and what it puts in the air. It just seems wrong and harmful to others.

      December 4, 2012 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
    • femtorgon

      The harmful chemical being referred to is NOT Propylene Glycol, which is indeed largely harmless. It's Diethylene Glycol (abbreviated DEG), and it is poisonous. I'm not aware of ever having seen any indication of Diethylene Glycol showing up in Duncan Hines products. Look up the Massengill Incident to see demonstrated both the toxicity of the chemical and a big part of why we now have the FDA. Not to exaggerate the DEG-related findings. Concentrations seemed to be very low (I don't know if the concentration of DEG was higher than the regulation maximum impurity allowed in Propylene Glycol), and only detected in some brands, from what I understand, but the two are definitely not the same thing.

      February 6, 2013 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      @femtorgon,
      "The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations allows no more than 0.2% of diethylene glycol in polyethylene glycol when the latter is used as a food additive", per Wikipedia with a footnote to the Federal code. Food grade (often even pharmaceutical grade) propylene glycol is used in e-cig juice. Point being that the feds have a threshold and what's being used is deemed safe. Consider gas stoves in our homes produce deadly carbon monoxide. One can say it's deadly, or one can say it's plenty safe enough.
      Water is a major ingredient in antifreeze. Water is not toxic, propylene glycol is not toxic, and both are in antifreeze which is toxic. The 'ingredient found in antifreeze' statement needs to be squashed.

      July 12, 2013 at 11:04 | Report abuse |
  7. DT

    Witches, burn them! Burn them all I tell you!

    They say they are not using black magic, but Ezekiel, the butcher's son, witnessed one send forth a plume of smoke from her mouth using a magical device spawned from the Devil himself! Dear citizens, do you not believe even your own eyes? Thay are witches, I say!

    They will say that their magic smoke devices emit steam, not smoke, but didst thou ever know a smoker, er, a witch, to ever tell the truth? Their forked tongues speak with Satan's own voice! Do not even listen to them, give them no consideration, lest you unwittingly permit them to sway you, and their evil words cast a spell on thee.

    We are the righteous! God is on our side! Burn them! They are smokers, er, um, witches!

    June 18, 2012 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. DB

    It's amazing... People will literally whine about 2nd hand smoke, and 2nd hand vapor, and 2nd hand whatever.

    What about the cars in front of you at the stop light? Are you not concerned more about the toxic plume they're spewing out? Is it because you can't see it? Is it because your crapbox spews out the same toxic plume, so it's okay? Do you whiners avoid parking garages because of 2nd hand exhaust? Do you avoid parking lots? Busy streets?

    I swear people will always find something to cry about. America has become nothing but a bunch of whiny little girls. The same person whining about his boss vaping in his office, is probably the same guy who weighs 350 pounds and is currently inhaling a triple cheeseburger and a large french fry for lunch. I don't smoke, and I don't use an e-cigarette, so I stand nothing to gain either way. Unless you do NOTHING that could possibly harm someone, which is impossible...then quit crying, people.

    June 18, 2012 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brettk58

      Thanks DB, that is spot on.

      January 14, 2013 at 21:12 | Report abuse |
    • mmv2006

      Right on, I am so tired of the whining. There is an old saying I am sure you have heard. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. I'm guessing if you were at a wedding you would gripe about the fog machine as well. I'm also guessing that you have never drove after a beer or two? Ya right, look e-cigs are a wonderful thing, if you are concerned about the person in the office who is using one, how about instead of griping about it you just simply ask them what brand they use. Do you own research and look for yourself. Ignorance is not an excuse for waving the flag of war. You are not a victim and no one is out to get you. Grow up and start leading your own path instead of following the paths of others!

      January 25, 2013 at 21:45 | Report abuse |
  9. Garg

    CNN: "some of the most popular e-cigarette brands contain carcinogens". FALSE e-cigs do not contain the tar and carcinogens associated with traditional tobacco cigarettes. Products like BlueCigs is all natural and is made in the US. as always, read as much as you can of the company who make any product you buy and dont be afraid to call them or do a live chat with a rep. i recently had a nice chat with a person from BlueCigs and all this claims made in this site about how harmful and toxic this e-cigs are, it doesnt apply to all of them. so before everyone goes in to a panic mode and try to support a bill to band this e-cigs, DO YOUR RESEARCH, (kind of like saying if you vote, dont let others vote for you X-)

    June 29, 2012 at 17:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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  16. Rachel

    MISINFORMATION ABOUND IN THIS ARTICLE! Please people, do your own research. The one brand that was found to have antifreeze was a CHINESE producer of the ecigarette liquid. The american brands are 'safe.' If you already are a smoker there is NO REASON for you not to switch to ecigarettes as it helps reduce the damage you are doing to your body by leaps and bounds. Smokers who switch to them notice a difference within a week of switching.

    September 5, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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    In my opinion, the company wouldn't allow these ingredients if it would harm an infant. The e-cig may be harmful to those with kidney failure or renal problems (which is what I am trying to find out) but I couldn't see it being harmful for others to be around it second hand.... I could be wrong... Hope I am not. I quit smoking with the e-cig, it's the only thing that has ever worked for me. I was using my inhaler on a daily basis, and my father passed away last year from emphysema, he smoked 2 packs of cigarettes daily... Since the day I quit and started on the e-cig, I haven't touched my inhaler. But on a negative side, I have Polycystic Kidneys. Since I have started on the e-cig I have noticed some kidney pains in the mornings. Also I have noticed I have been more dehydrated. I have read that the ingredients cause dehydration, I know I don't drink enough water and this could be the cause of the pain in my kidney... Thinking the e-cig is causing dehydration and I am not compensating with adequate water intake? Not sure, but really trying to do the research and find out.

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  25. james65807

    I was outside with a store owner who was trying an e-cigarette from a seller. He breathed out after inhaling. I was in direct line from his exhale outside. I noticed the air with e-cigarette vapor inhaled by e-cigarette user and exhaled in my breathing area was not right. It made me dizzy and I noticed there was a difference. That machine can be adjusted to make it stronger. Immediately I thought of how much I hate the U.S., because of this situation. I hope the law reflects my opinion that second hand smoke from the mouth of the e-cigarette user should be limited just as cigarette smoke from the mouth of a cigarette user is vile. How long till second hand smoke laws include e-cigarettes? I mean it.

    January 4, 2013 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D.M.

      You . Are. Retarded. Re. Tarded.

      April 26, 2013 at 23:58 | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Absolutely ridiculous.

      July 12, 2013 at 09:57 | Report abuse |
    • Danyeal De La Luna

      Having someone blow vaper right in you face is indeed rude, but when someone is just in the same space as you, you are in ZERO danger.

      There are more of a danger from perfume and aftershave than there is from Vapers.

      July 17, 2013 at 04:26 | Report abuse |
    • tia

      honey there is no smoke that comes out of e-cigs its vapor. there is nothing burning its just the warming of the liquid that makes the vapor.

      April 8, 2014 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
  26. Als

    I am a former smoker and asthmatic, who sits next to e-cigarette user at a sporting event. Thus, my exposure is only occasional and very limited. I do not sense any problem with the vapor he exhales. I am hopeful, for the sake of smokers, that there is no secondary affect for those who are nearby, however, I would like scientific evaluation of whether or not there is a secondary affect. Unfortunately, I do have fragile lungs which can get me into trouble from time to time.

    January 26, 2013 at 05:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. marcia c

    man, I am no expert in this and was looking for more information on second hand smoke or chemicals for the sake of my loved ones because I just bought one and was concerned about it for now all I know after smoking for 30 yrs I have not smoked since which is amazing and kinda of a miracle for me but would love to know the facts so for now i will not smoke it in front of anyone but I hope people will keep posting if they know more info. thanks

    January 27, 2013 at 02:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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  29. Electronic Cigarettes

    I can now breathe much better than when I was smoking cigarettes and don't get pains in my lungs from smoking too much anymore, I am not out of breath climbing stairs and I don't constantly smell of smoke.

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  30. Name*Ashley

    Can a bar tell you you can't smoke an e cig in their facility?

    April 10, 2013 at 04:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Tom

    Dr Gupta, you make a good point that more research is needed. Inherent in that fact is you have no idea what you're talking about in this article.
    You mention 'a toxic chemical found in antifreeze'. That's scary. You need to identify that chemical though. People making that claim are usually referring to propylene glycol, a common substance in foods we eat virtually every day. Perhaps you're talking about diethylene glycol, a deadly toxin which is in fact in e-cigarette juice. Well wait, "The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations allows no more than 0.2% of diethylene glycol in polyethylene glycol when the latter is used as a food additive", per Wikipedia with a footnote to the Federal code. Noteworthy: food grade propylene glycol is used in e-cig juice. Dr. Gupta, water is a major ingredient in antifreeze. Water is not toxic, propylene glycol is not toxic, and both are in antifreeze which is toxic. Scandalize water and see how that goes over Dr Gupta.
    You reference 'inhaling pure nicotine'. Gross ignorance on your part Dr Gupta. Typical e-cigarette juice has 0 to 2.4% nicotine. Yes 0 counts. Some people just enjoy puffing (vaping) after they've weaned off nicotine.
    You mention 'toxic substances', plural. Again you need a reference, a name of a toxin other than the nicotine. (?)
    How toxic is second hand vapor? If I proclaim it is virtually harmless, I have fewer misleading and incorrect presumptions than your article above. And frankly, it's probably true.

    July 12, 2013 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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    February 18, 2014 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tia

      shelly it sounds like you might have an allergy to it. Do you have the same reaction around fog machines? I believe the fog machines use a type of PG like in the e-cig. I have come across several people who have this same reaction to it.

      April 8, 2014 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.