Is Vaping The Right Alternative For Smokers?
By now, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes that cigarette smoking is not harmful, and yet, many drug stores continue to sell them – often right next to gums and mints meant to help people quit the habit. About 480,000 people dies each year die smoking tobacco and about half of the people who are smoking right now will end up dying because of it. Unless you are a gambler, those are not very good odds.
We often hear about the virtues of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices and how they are safer than cigarettes. Many companies tout how these devices can be used to help people quit smoking altogether. But are these claims true or are they just blowing smoke (or mist) in our faces? People on both sides of the aisle of the debate agree that it is nearly impossible to determine the safety of vaping since these products have really only been around for about a decade now. However, vaping is a bit older than most of us know.
A Little Vaping History
The first electronic vaporizer was given a patent in 1930. Its inventor, Joseph Robinson, created it with the sole purpose of using it to help deliver medicinal compounds. However, the device was never created or sold. The first smokeless, non-tobacco cigarette was created by Herbert Gilbert in 1963. It was said to replace “burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air” producing steam but no nicotine. He was given a patent in 1965, but again, no products were actually made since smoking was still “in.” (However, in 2013 Gilbert stated that the modern devices have been built based on his basic design.) Then, in 1986, the Favor cigarette was created as another alternative nicotine-containing tobacco product.
Year later, Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist and inventor got involved in the creation of vaping products as well. Just like his father, Lik was a heavy smoker smoking one to two packs of cigarettes a day. That was until he watched his father die of lung cancer. That changed everything for him.
Lik had an earnest desire to see people quit smoking and he is credited for creating the first commercially successful modern e-cigarette called the Ruyan. The e-cigarette was first introduced in China in 2004, but most Americans didn’t hear of the device until a couple of years later.
Why People Vape
More often than not, the intentions of these early inventors was to create devices that would help people curb or quit smoking altogether. But that is only one reason why people say they vape. Some people see vaping as a way to get around the many “smoke-free” laws in our country and being able to enjoy it in places where they once couldn’t. (Although, many places that do not allow smoking do not allow vaping either.) The rest say that they believe e-cigarettes are safer to use than smoking. Some doctors agree with them.
In late 2019, USA Today reported that the federal agency, Public Health England, reiterated its 2015 conclusion that vaping was 95% safer than smoking. It also stated that Britain’s Public Health Service actually recommends vaping to smokers and allows vape shops to operate in hospitals.
However, the newspaper also reported the reaction of the American Lung Association to this claim. Albert Rizzo, the chief medical officer said that smoking is a “low bar to beat” and that the statistic was based on an “extraordinarily flimsy foundation.” (USA Today)
Death By Vaping
By January of 2020, e-cigarettes have been blamed for 57 deaths. What might be more troubling is the fact that over 2,600 people have been hospitalized for vaping-related illnesses which eventually could also lead to death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC has made reports that an ingredient used to make e-cigarettes is a leading cause in these hospitalizations.
All fingers are pointing to Vitamin E acetate as being harmful when consumed by vaping the CDC says. However, that might not be the only harmful ingredient being used. Some e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine while others carry marijuana or various flavorings. In the case of those companies choosing to include nicotine, they are just creating more addiction.
Still, some doctors like Maciej Goniewicz of the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center believes that vaping uses fewer chemicals than smoking and therefore, are safer to use. He says that when a person completely switches from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes, it reduces their exposure to many toxic elements. But how much is “fewer” and is it really any better?
The Dangers of the Smokeless, Tobaccoless Vaping Machine
The concept of vaping sounded so good when it was first introduced. Instead of burning tobacco and inhaling smoke, users heat a liquid that releases a simple vapor that, until recently, was thought to be harmless. However, just as tobacco found in traditional cigarettes is not the only component that causes cancer other serious diseases (including bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, atherosclerosis and liver disease), there are a number of chemicals included in the vaping process that can potential be as dangerous if not more so.
Danger isn’t always obvious. American cigarette companies actually got doctors’ blessings on their products when they first made their way onto store shelves and since it took a long time for any illnesses to show up from the tobacco use, a lot of damage had already been done.
According to the National Center for Health Research, it takes years of smoking to develop deadly diseases but the timeline is much shorter for people who vape.
“In 2019, it became clear that vaping could cause seizures and serious lung damage after just a year, possibly less, based on CDC reports of patients hospitalized for lung damage caused by vaping,” said the organization in a recent published article. “While there have been warnings about the possible risk of e-cigarettes for a decade, it was not expected that they could cause such severe damage in such a short period of time.”
However, the CDC really shouldn’t have been surprised. The FDA has been ringing the warning bell for years on the matter. In 2009, the FDA reported that e-cigarettes contained “detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could be exposed.” Some “tobacco-free” products were found to contain a compound commonly used in antifreeze, tobacco-specific compounds that have proven to cause cancer in humans and other tobacco-specific impurities. Another study found that 42 products contained formaldehyde at much higher levels recommended for humans. And as late as 2017, the Public Library of Science Journal published a study that showed that the well-known carcinogen benzene was found in many popular brands of e-cigarettes.
Most recently, the American Cancer Society found that vaping might also damage one’s DNA. Though the study was small involving just five adults, the results are scary just the same. They took the spit from these five adults before and after a 15-minute long vaping session. They found an increase in formaldehyde and acrolein, the latter which is responsible for damaging DNA.
Non-Smokers Can Be Affected Too
Using e-cigarettes has also been seen as a solution to secondhand smoke and there hasn’t been enough time for a long-term study proving that vapor is safer than smoke. However, there was a study put out by the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health that found these devices had increased concentrations of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and airborne particles which can be harmful to anyone who inhales them. And while vaping doesn’t stink like cigarette smoke does, this study showed that e-cigarettes still had a negative impact on air quality, especially when vaping indoors.
E-cigarette vapors contain the same harmful substances such diacetyl (a chemical linked to a serious lung disease), cancer-causing chemicals, VOC’s and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead.
And some women who think that vaping is safer than smoking are not hesitating to vape while they are pregnant. Regardless of how it is ingested, nicotine can harm a fetus’ developing brain. If that isn’t enough to get one to quit, know this: some e-cigarettes can administer more nicotine that regular cigarettes.
E-cigarettes can harm people in other ways too. According the British Medical Journal, there were about 2,035 e-cigarette explosions and burn injuries that happened between 2015 and 2017 that were bad enough to warrant medical treatment. They even estimate that theses counts could be higher since these types of injuries are not well-reported as they suspect some people who received these injuries, didn’t seek professional medical help.
Again, one of the main arguments for e-cigarettes is the belief that they can help people quit or at least cut down on their smoking habits. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. To date, there are no reliable studies at whether e-cigarettes can be used to cut down on the number of cigarettes being smoked or if vaping actually helped people quit smoking long-term. The studies that have been done have been short term (six months of less) or the people in the study here not randomly selected.
One short-term study found that after six to 12 months, users of e-cigarettes were no more likely to quit regular cigarettes even though 85% of the people claimed that they were motivated to used e-cigarettes for this purpose. A similar study found that after a year, 90% of the people interviewed who vaped said that they were unable to quit smoking. Moreover, many of these people are now considered “dual users.” To be fair, it is possible that some of these dual users hadn’t completely switched over yet.
“Dual users may be in transition before they switch completely, and a study suggests they take from a few days to several years and also switch during that time to flavors other than tobacco.” Says David Abrams from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The younger a person begins to smoke, the harder it becomes for them to quit. And to make matters worse, about nine out of every 10 smokers began smoking before they were 18 years old.
No company will admit that they are targeting children or teens with their vaping products, but with flavors like cotton candy and caramel apple, kids are definitely giving them a try. In fact, the number of curious teens willing to try vaping projects is growing at an alarming rate.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, three million middle school and high school students said that they had tried e-cigarettes in 2015. Experts say that kids who try e-cigarettes out of curiosity might actually turn to conventional cigarettes. One in five middle schoolers claimed that they tried the product even though that had never smoked regular cigarettes.
“Vaping may introduce many more young people to smoking who might otherwise never have tried it, and once they are addicted to nicotine, some may decide to get their “fix” from regular cigarettes,” says the National Center for Health Research. “Whether vaping or juuling is a “gateway” to regular cigarettes or not, young people who use them risk becoming addicted to nicotine and exposing their lungs to harmful chemicals.”
However, Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association disagrees saying, “In the mid-late 2000s, the decline in smoking among youth slowed considerably and then stagnated. Anyone who claims that smoking rates among youth and young adults would be as low as they are today without vaping products around to further deformalize smoking is either disingenuous or smoking something more potent than cigarettes.”
And then there are the kids who are too young to smoke or vape who are getting harmed as well. It was reported in 2015 that less than 50 parents called poison control hotlines each month because their child (age six and under) had swallowed e-cigarette liquid or had the liquid absorbed through their skin. The number rose to 200 phone calls a month in 2015 and half of those calls involved children under the age of two.
So, Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?
Is that even the right question to be asking? While we know that smoking is bad for you, the evidence (so far) seems to suggest that vaping isn’t all that much better. It is like asking if a stabbing is safer than a shooting. Maybe, but why do either?