Many smokers have considered turning to electronic cigarettes, which are “vaped” rather than smoked, to help them quit. E-cigarettes are a recent development in tobacco harm-reduction and are marketed as a less harmful alternative to smoking, but a stream of conflicting stories about their benefits has left consumers confused. There is, however, a strong scientific consensus that vaping is far better for health than smoking, although it is best to neither vape nor smoke.
What is an e-cigarette and how does it differ from a regular cigarette? Cigarettes contain nicotine, as do nearly all e-cigarettes. While a standard cigarette involves the burning of tobacco, e-cigarettes do not involve combustion. Instead, a solvent, called an e-liquid, is heated to provide a vapour or aerosol. Smoking a cigarette leads to smoke inhalation but using an e-cigarette involves inhaling a vapour. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide. They do include additives and flavourings.
The side effects of smoking:
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Decreased blood flow to fingers and toes
- Decreased skin temperature
- Bad breath
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea, abdominal cramps and vomiting
- Coughing, due to smoke irritation
- Risk of cancer
- Premature aging of skin
- Heart disease
- Nicotine – Stimulates the nervous system and increases blood pressure.
- Lead – Attacks the brain and central nervous system. This can cause comas, seizures and eventually death.
- Arsenic – Large amounts can lead to cancer, liver disease, coma, and death.
- Ammonia – Can cause coughing, nose and throat irritation, and mouth cancer.
- Benzene – Causes anaemia and leukaemia (blood cancer).
- Carbon Monoxide – Also known as the “silent killer”. The toxin can cause anaemia and respiratory problems.
- Nitrosamines – Can lead to cancer.
The side effects of e-cigarette / vaping:
- May cause nausea, vomiting.
- Abdominal pain, and eye irritation.
- Some e-cigarettes have caught fire and/or exploded because of faulty batteries or malfunctioning battery chargers.
- “Popcorn lung” (bronchiolitis obliterans) is a lung disease that results in scarring and narrowing of the airways in the lungs.
- Nicotine – The addictive chemical. When people say they’re addicted to smoking, they’re dependant on nicotine.
- Propylene Glycol (vegetable oil) – also known as e-juice, it keeps the vape’s liquid moist and the cartridge well-lubricated. It’s not a serious health risk but can cause damage to the lungs when inhaled.
- Vegetable Glycerol – A non-toxic colourless liquid with a naturally sweet taste. When used in vape juice, it enhances the flavours and greatly improves vapour production.
- Acetaldehyde – a colourless, flammable, non-toxic liquid used in the manufacture of acetic acid, perfumes, and flavours.
- Nitrosamines – carcinogenic agents also found in cigarettes and processed meats.
When you add grape to a vape, you are simply adding flavour to it. Although, the flavouring is designed to be ingested and not inhaled, so it can be harmful to the lungs, just like smoking is. The real question is, which of them causes the dreaded “popcorn lung”?
It sounds silly and strange, but “popcorn lung” is a serious lung disease caused by diacetyl, a flavouring chemical found in foods like popcorn. This flavouring is also found in some vape juices. When you inhale vape smoke deeply, you’re allowing diacetyl to attack your lungs directly. This results in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and, potentially, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Turns out vaping is bad for you, but it’s still the lesser evil when it comes to smoking. Smoking cigarettes is worse for you since your body is exposed to more harmful, cancer-causing chemicals. Although vaping can give you “popcorn lung”, cigarettes can give you “black lung” (lungs that are black instead of pink), which can ultimately lead to you suffocating to death. Although “popcorn lung” is irreversible, vaping has comparatively more benefits than smoking does.
E-cigarette/ vaping is potentially the healthier option but are they healthy? The e-liquid solvents like propylene glycol and glycerine, and certain flavouring agents that are safe to eat but may be problematic when heated and inhaled, and which metals are coming off a device’s heating coils. E-cigarettes are likely less carcinogenic and heart hazardous than cigarettes, but the effects of long- term use on the lungs remain an open question. Most people just think about the e-cigarette as kind of like a cigarette, except it doesn’t have as much bad stuff in it. But when you heat it up, you just get a whole different mixture of toxic chemicals.
There is some concern that e-cigarettes are being marketed to attract younger non-smokers with “flavoured” liquids such as bubble gum, piña colada, vanilla, and others. Because most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, it is possible that people can become addicted to them. Some doctors are concerned that if they become addicted to the nicotine in the e-cigarettes, it may be an easy step up to smoking tobacco, which is associated with many health consequences.
And what if you have not tried any form of tobacco? Just say “no”, full stop, to both vaping and smoking, say “no” to the unpleasant smell, to the unnecessary expense, to the increased risk of disease.