By Jodi Truglio
It’s super trendy, and celebrities and influencers of all ages, nationalities and genders can be seen all over social media doing it. It has also been presented as a viable alternative to smoking. But the big question remains: is vaping bad for you?
To answer that question, we need to understand what exactly vaping is, and what’s in vaping cigarettes.
What is Vaping?
Vaping involves ‘smoking’ a kind of vapour through an electronic device. A small element is heated, turning an e-liquid into steam. Vaping is quite similar to smoking e-cigarettes – the only difference is the latter uses cartridges. But both are battery-operated devices that can look like a real cigarette, or plastic pen.
Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put vaping under the same category: “e-cigarettes, hookahs and electronic nicotine delivery systems.”
There are currently around 460 brands of e-cigarettes and a whopping array of around 7,700 flavours on the market – many of those flavours are directed towards children, as we shall see more about, below.
According to studies roughly 2.9 million adults in the UK use e-cigarettes; however, 7.4 million people still smoke regular cigarettes, which puts stress on the socially funded National Health System (NHS) in that country. Public Health England estimates that 20,000 people per year could be weaned off their cigarette habit each year with the help of e-cigarettes.
In the USA, vaping is even more popular, and since 2007 the e-cigarette industry has grown into a $6.6 billion-dollar-a-year industry. However, in the USA, studies are conflicted about whether e-cigarettes actually help smokers discontinue smoking.
In fact, the FDA hasn’t approved it as an aid to help patients quit smoking, although nicotine patches and gum have received the green light.
Is Vaping Dangerous?
Like smoking, vaping also comes with its own array of health risks. In fact, there’s strong evidence showing that e-cigarettes are toxic and can seriously harm your health.
E-cigarettes contain ingredients such as formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), nitrosamines (linked to cancer) and lead (a serious neurotoxin) that can cause mouth or throat irritation, nausea, and coughing.
In 2017, European researchers found the use of e-cigarettes could lead to stiffening of the arteries, a well known effect of traditional cigarettes that can result in an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, as well as other cardiovascular complications.
Recent studies have shown that puffing on e-cigarettes increases concentration of microscopic pollutants — in particular, PM2.5 and ultrafine particles. These exist in the lungs not only of those who are vaping directly, but also in the indoor environments of those who are around e-cigarette smokers. In other words, vaping also leaves being second-hand ‘smoke’ which can damage the lungs of others.
Researchers don’t yet know exactly what risks e-cigarette aerosol particles carry, but these tiny particles have been studied extensively in the context of air pollution and tobacco smoking. In those studies, researchers have linked exposure to small particles with a range of negative cardiovascular outcomes, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease.
The thinking is that when we’re exposed to large particles, like dust, our bodies mount a defense against them. Namely, we cough, kicking these foreign pollutants out of our respiratory tract. But with fine particulate matter, that defense mechanism doesn’t kick in — and again, these micro-contaminants can seep into our lungs and cardiovascular system. The same goes for the other toxic chemicals e-cigarettes produce when they’re heated, such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and acrolein.
Finally, the main ingredient in both traditional and e-cigarettes is nicotine, which is derived from tobacco and has a powerful effect on the brain and the central nervous system. When inhaled, it goes into lungs first, then enters the bloodstream before hitting the brain with a ‘smoker’s high’. Nicotine in both forms of cigarettes has been found to be harmful to the developing adolescent brain, especially the parts that control attention, learning, mood, memory, and impulse control.
Bad For Kids
Nicotine is actually one of the most addictive chemicals known to man, and it’s therefore easy for younger people to get addicted with just a handful of uses.
Given that information and the health risks mentioned above, it’s rather shocking to know that in 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. middle and high school students admitted to using e-cigarettes within the past 30 days, including 4.9% of middle school students and 20.8% of high school students.
Rather disturbingly, companies like JUUL pod are deliberately marketing directly to a younger crowd by enticing them with yummy-sounding e-liquid flavors such as mango, fruit salad and gummy bear. They sound fun, and even healthy, but one single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.
That’s a startling amount. Recently, the FDA issued a press release that identified 35 cases between 2010 and 2019 in which e-cigarette users, especially young people, experienced convulsions or seizures after using vaping devices. The suspected cause of these serious health issues was believed be nicotine poisoning.
But even when vapour is nicotine-free, it may carry other heart health risks. The heating element in e-cigarettes emits tiny particles, sometimes including metals, which can lodge themselves deep into the lungs and get absorbed into the body’s circulatory system, leading to potential cardiovascular toxicity.
What’s more, since people haven’t been vaping for very long, the science on its health effects is still preliminary — and far from conclusive. It may take decades for any diseases possibly caused by e-cigarettes to fully surface, particularly in the younger, healthier people now using them.
Is Vaping Better Than Smoking?
There’s no question that vaping is better than smoking.
Encouragingly, while more than 40 percent of Americans smoked in 1965, only about 18 percent did in 2012. That drop in the rate of smoking is mainly thanks to a number of factors: mainly, a long and hard campaign against smoking, plus increasing taxes, a ban on broadcast advertising, and anti-smoking ad campaigns that promote a healthy lifestyle and warn of the health risks of smoking. For several decades, it has been impossible to purchase a pack of cigarettes free from a stern warning and/or gruesome image about the hazards of smoking.
There’s also a wide assortment of products to help smokers kick the habit — everything from patches and gum to prescription drugs, lozenges and lollipops. So, do we need vaping devices to help kick the habit, too?
Although the UK supports the use of vaping to wean people of cigs, going as far as claiming that it is 95 percent safer when compared to cigarettes, these studies are focusing on the key fact that e-cigarettes don’t contain any tobacco along with a list of other harmful chemicals that have been linked directly to cancer related to cigarette smoking. They also ignore the fact that those who successfully quit tobacco often became hooked on vaping instead.
Additionally, there’s strong evidence from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that e-cigarettes may act as a gateway to traditional cigarette smoking for younger people. This is a very important finding because another key question about the introduction of e-cigarettes to the market has been what impact they’ll have on youth smoking rates, which have dropped dramatically in recent decades.
- Brick-and-mortar stores will be barred from selling e-cigarettes in flavours other than tobacco, mint and menthol unless they prevent minors from entering the store altogether or create a separate section of the store that minors can’t enter.
- Websites that sell flavoured vaping products must curb bulk purchases and use a third-party age-verification services.
- The FDA is also requiring all e-cigarette makers, including Juul, to submit products currently on the market to the agency for review by August 2021, a year earlier than its previous deadline.
Nine states have passed legislation to raise the legal age for tobacco and vaping products to 21, and hundreds more cities, counties and towns have as well.
In the UK, since October 2015, vaping laws were changed to ban retailers from selling e-cigarettes or e-juices to anyone under 18 years of age, and this includes both online and bricks and mortar stores.
It was also made illegal for any adult to try to buy e-cigarettes for anyone aged under 18 and even smoking in private vehicles which are carrying people under 18 has been banned, although vaping will still be permitted when transporting minors.
Although minors are not actually committing a crime if they attempt to buy e-cigarettes, any retailer that is caught selling these products to minors can be fined up to £2,500 for the offence.
There is still quite a lot of confusion amongst retailers, however, and in practice many youngsters under the legal age have been able to buy vaping equipment around the country without being asked to show any form of ID.
As the law has been updated a number of times, some sellers are still unaware of what is legal and what is not, and there is still a lot of debate about whether selling nicotine free e-liquid is legal or not.
It should also be noted that e-cigarettes are banned in many countries internationally, including Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and many other Asian and Middle Eastern nations, due to concerns over their overall health and safety.
There can be little doubt that vaping is simply not good for you. Unless you’re a heavy smoker who has tried – and failed – to quit several times, there’s really no reason to take up this habit, whose long term health effects are still unknown.