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  • Writer's pictureCarol Williard van Ginkel

Vaping Risks and Comparisons to Smoking: A Comprehensive Analysis

It appears that vaping rates are displacing smoking rates, and many smokers are turning to vapes as a “healthier alternative.” Many over thirty vapers who have turned to e-cigarettes see it as a better alternative to smoking, and they believe it is a pathway to stopping. They do not know what they are inhaling, but they are sure it is better than the 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco, thus reasoning it must be “healthier” and besides, the flavors are amazing! Meanwhile, as schools let out, more and more teens are clamoring to get outside for their first hits as they are enveloped by sweet-smelling clouds of nicotine plus what? Never mind! Aaahhh!  All is well…

The Appeal of Vaping: Perceptions and Misconceptions

But the evidence tells a different story. Government leaders are calling for more regulations. What do they know that the public does not yet know? In the US and UK approximately 7.5% of the populations are vapers. The percentage of teens between the ages of 11 and 17 has grown exponentially in the past years despite the efforts by both governments to curtail the sale of e-cigarettes to the youth.

What's in Your Vape? Analyzing the Components

Vapes are electronic delivery systems of various designs. The most popular brands are the ones that deliver the most amount of nicotine in a single hit.  Vapers deliver nicotine, flavorings, and solvents such as propylene glycol and glycerin in a device that suspends them in a gas that is inhaled.  The short- and long-term impacts of these substances are becoming more widely known:  The three e-liquid ingredients all cause immediate and long term harm. Nicotine is a pesticide that causes a dopamine rush in the brain that becomes addictive.  It also causes the overstimulation of the heart and one’s blood pressure to rise, which are risk factors for cardiac failure.

The Harmful Effects of Propylene Glycol and Glycerin

Propylene glycol and glycerin irritate and inflame the airways. The manufacturers of these substances do not recommend they be inhaled as short-term exposure can lead to coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, a sore throat, and decreased lung function. Most of the buttery flavorings contain diacetyl and acetyl propionyl which are claimed to be industrial hazards. Some of the other menthol and sweet flavors contain compounds that produce inflammation. Sweeteners that are converted by heat become aldehydes that can cause heart and lung disease.

Heavy Metals in Vapes: A Hidden Health Hazard

There are also some unintentional byproducts to vapes such as heavy metals that are released by the heating element such as a nickel-chromium alloy which has been associated with lung cancer. Higher amounts of nickel are found in vapes than in tobacco smoke. It is also discovered that the older the device the more heavy metal pollution is found so over 100 hits produce approximately 60 times as much as the first 50. The vape aerosol delivers the same carcinogens as found in tobacco smoke, such as carbon monoxide, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, formaldehyde, and acrolein, but to a lesser degree. Recent studies have shown a relationship between vaping and lung and bladder cancer in mice. However, the effects of vaping are still found to be less carcinogenic than the effects of smoking tobacco cigarettes. 

EVALI: The Outbreak of Vaping-Related Lung Injuries

From August 2019 to February 2020, 2,807 vapers in the US were hospitalized for lung injuries and pneumonia.  This illness was named EVALI, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury. It turned out that the cause was found in off-market cannabis oils with vitamin E acetate.  When heated it turns into ketene, known to be toxic to the lungs. Popcorn lung has been coined by health professionals as the condition caused by inhaling diacetyl, the compound used to adhere the flavorings to popcorn.  The problem with diacetyl is that it is inhaled by vapers, not chewed, so it coats the lungs with its flavorings. 

Conclusion: The Need for Cessation and Further Research

Yet, the data to date concludes that vaping is better for you than smoking and many smokers are turning to vapes as a “healthier alternative.”  It will take years for science to catch up with the long-term effects of vaping. In the meantime, the best solution is to quit once and for all.  

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