Is “Vaping” a Healthier Alternative?
Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
About five years ago, one of my best friends started using e-cigarettes as a way to break herself of her smoking habit. She started with a concentration of nicotine in the vapor that was similar to what she was smoking, and gradually weaned herself off completely. To this day, she is tobacco free. What a fantastic story!
Unfortunately, this success story of using an e-cig to break the habit isn’t one that we hear about very often in the news or social media. In fact, we want to be very clear that the use of e-cigarettes is not an FDA approved method to aid in smoking cessation. However, a 2014 study published by the Society for the Study of Addiction showed that e-cigarettes were more effective than over the counter nicotine replacement therapy or “going cold-turkey”. More research is definitely needed here to authoritatively address this use.
There are a lot of dangers related to these devices and the liquids that are vaporized in them. While the jury is still out on a lot concerning these devices, there is quite a bit that we do know about the ingredients that go into the liquids. Let’s take some time to talk today about these and what risks they may pose.
What is “vaping”?
Electronic cigarettes are portable devices that vaporize liquids often containing nicotine and various other chemicals. They come in many shapes and formats. Many users tout their safety in that they produce water vapor, rather than second hand smoke, and the user doesn’t get the nasty side effect of inhaling tar with the nicotine. Some smokers that I’ve talked to have mentioned that using the e-cig also gave them the feeling of smoking – via holding the device and the actual inhalation – versus a passive nicotine replacement therapy such as the patch.
We know that nicotine is the addictive chemical that is found in cigarettes, but what about these other chemicals? And what about nicotine itself?
While nicotine has not yet been shown to be a carcinogen by itself, it is known to be the addiction causing factor in tobacco products. Sanner and Grismond (2015) describe the chemical pathways that produce this addiction, as well as telling us how nicotine hampers cancer treatments. They go on to tell us that nicotine may inhibit our body’s natural anti-tumor immune responses, thus exacerbating tumor growth.
Remember when we discussed Smoking and Bladder Cancer, and I told you that β-napthylamine is a chemical found in cigarette smoke that is known to be carcinogenic to the bladder? Well, guess what is still found in e-cigs – yep, β-napthylamine.
It has been found that the vapor produced by e-cigarettes also contains more than just water vapor. Heavy metals such as lead can be produced in the vapor, and then inhaled by the user or by other people in the room. Some of the flavorings, such as diacetyl, have also been linked to lung disease.
It comes as no big shock that there is a direct link between cigarette smoking and fires. In 2011 alone, 90,000 fires were found to be caused by smoking materials, causing an estimated 540 deaths. E-cigarettes, however, aren’t guiltless in this area. Batteries in the devices have been known to explode, either during use, while charging, or while being transported. Many of these explosions have been traced back to overcharging. There are fears that the numbers of explosions may increase as battery sizes become larger.
The bottom line
When it comes to comparing cigarette smoking to the use of e-cigarettes, we know a couple of things:
- E-cigarettes have not been responsible for as many fires as traditional cigarettes, but a danger is still there via the risk of explosions
- There are fewer chemicals in e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes
- Despite many adults using e-cigs to aid in smoking cessation, teens that start “vaping” are more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes
What we don’t know are long term effects. These devices have only been around for about a decade, so we can’t directly compare the data on them to what we know about cigarette smoking from decades of research. Thankfully, many studies are currently assessing the risks and outcomes of e-cigarettes. Visit our page for clinical trials to see if you or a loved one may qualify to participate.