Vaping: Not a Safe Alternative
Vaping is an alternative method of smoking from the conventional use of cigarettes. Vaping is a general term that involves the inhalation of vapor created by heating up liquid through a device. Now you might be wondering, is all vaping like traditional cigarettes? It is a bit simplified to say the answer to this question is yes, and vaping is growing in complexity and variety. Vaping is most commonly used in the form of e-cigarettes, although it is also used for marijuana and other substances. E-cigarette use and vaping is growing in popularity and was initially introduced as an alternative method to help tobacco users quit smoking. It has been shown that teens today are less likely to smoke cigarettes when compared to teens several decades ago, and part of this trend can be attributed to the increased use and popularity of vaping.
Since being introduced in the U.S. in 2007, e-cigarettes have been highly investigated by various researchers, assessing their use and efficacy in helping tobacco users quit. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compiled of a list of 93 potentially harmful chemicals in regular cigarettes, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports a list of over 7,000 chemicals in traditional cigarettes. Now, it is true that e-cigarettes contain fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes, but it is foolish and incorrect to think that vaping is harmless, as many vape liquids still contain nicotine, the drug responsible for the highly addictive nature of cigarettes. After years of research, it has been demonstrated by multiple health professionals and researchers, including a team of Yale health researchers that vape devices do not help adult smokers quit. Even more interestingly, the use of vape devices increases the risk that a teen will eventually begin smoking regular cigarettes later in their life. Many have argued that it is then simple to just find a liquid that does not contain nicotine, but it is not possible for many of the popular vaping devices. Regardless of the liquid, you may use in your vaping device, we want you to understand its risks and furthermore understand that it is not automatically safer than regular cigarettes.
If the theory of vaping potentially helping adults quit smoking has been proven false, what are some of the associated risks with vaping? As with traditional smoking, vaping has greater risks in younger populations, including teens and young adults. This is because the brain and many other organs are still developing, all the way into the mid-twenties, and nicotine and other chemicals can cause large disruptions in neural circuitry. These changes can affect attention, learning, memory, and risk for addiction. Nicotine can also lead to long-term consequences, including mood disorders and problems with impulses. Apart from nicotine, the vaping liquid can contain other harmful ingredients, including ultrafine particles, flavoring agents, volatile organic compounds, and heavy metals. All of these ingredients can lead to respiratory issues and problems, as the act of vaping still involves the inhalation of vapor. These respiratory issues include lung cancer, bronchitis, the risk of asthma, COPD, or even a specific condition called bronchiolitis obliterans, more commonly known as “popcorn lung.” Then, does vaping eliminate the risk of cancer compared to traditional cigarette use? Of course, it does not.
Similar to regular cigarettes, some of the chemicals in the vaping liquids and aerosol are known to cause cancer. But I thought there was no smoke from vaping and that it was just harmless water vapor. This is the common misconception with vaping. Depending on the liquid that is used in a vaping device, it can have a long list of ingredients that can lead to negative health consequences. Many of them were previously mentioned: nicotine, heavy metals, etc. Given that so many of the vaping liquids contain nicotine, they remain largely addictive. The various potential health risks mean that vaping is not a harmless alternative to smoking and if you are considering use, please speak with your primary care provider to discuss the potential risks given your past medical history.