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Is Vaping Bad For You? - What The Science Says

Is Vaping Bad For You: What the Science Says

Is Vaping Bad for You? 

When it comes to vaping, there is without a doubt a high level of scaremongering whether it be from exaggerated news stories or inaccurate research. Although not harmless, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence suggesting that vaping is actually a lot safer than smoking cigarettes. The only problem is that misinformation at an early stage surrounding vaporizers has led individuals to think otherwise. For those who are serious about making the switch from cigarettes to vaping, delving a little deeper past the tabloid driven headlines will offer you some reassurance. 2017 saw the first publication into the study of vaping. This research compared the toxic exposure between individuals who has stopped smoking and switched to vaping for the past 16 months Vs. those who stuck to cigarettes.  

Funded by UK Cancer Research the study found a large reduction in exposure to carcinogens and other toxic compounds in those who switched to vaping. The sizeable reduction however did only show up for those who has given up cigarettes completely. Additionally, further research confirmed that the toxins in vapour pose a much smaller risk of causing cancer compared to that of smoking. Most of the available data for vaporizers suggested that the cancer risk from vaping is around one percent of that from smoking.  

 

Are Vape Flavours Targeting Children?  

Whilst on the topic of scaremongering we have all heard the notorious claims surrounding candy and fruit flavoured vape juice, especially how they are aimed at young children. In direct contrast to this, how many of us know adults that use these flavours to hide the taste of burning tobacco? And can’t we as adults enjoy some candy flavoured goodness?  

When it comes to giving up smoking the thing that most users want to distance themselves with is the damage caused by nicotine. Yes, some users can go cold turkey but others struggle and may have to go through the process of smoke cessation (a means of discontinuing tobacco smoking). In order for smoking cessation to be successful high numbers of users are turning to non-tobacco and non-menthol flavoured e-liquids. These appear linked to higher rates of smoke cessation. So, whilst the media may claim that these flavours are directly targeting children they are playing a vital role in the process of weaning smokers off nicotine and greatly reducing their exposure to toxic compounds.  

And, whilst health officials in America have claimed vaping devices are poisoning children with nicotine new research suggest that two thirds of teenagers are simply vaping “just flavouring”. This research also found that the Federal estimates for the number of youths using nicotine and tobacco filled products may be highly inflated, due to the incorrect assumption of how much vaping involves nicotine. This figure is around 25%.  

So, What Is Vaping?  

Okay, so the myths surrounding vaporizers can be pretty confusing. You were once used to thinking vaping was bad, but now it’s good in comparison to smoking? Let’s get back to this basics for a minute and first explain what vaping even is. Vaping is the act of inhaling vaporized liquids, herbs or waxes/concentrates. It does not initially contain any sort of tobacco and does not involve the burning of any substances. The users choice of materials are simply turned into vapor through a small heating element (inside the device) with no combustion or smoke.  

The device will generally consist of a mouthpiece, battery, cartridge and a heating component more than likely powered by a battery. The vapor can be defined as a “substance diffused or suspended in the air, which is originally a liquid or solid turned into a gaseous form”. And although it is much thicker than smoke it does smell better and quickly clears.   

The Effects of Vaping  

The debate surrounding the future of vaping is possibly one of the most divisive in the history of tobacco control. Many believe that the spread of vaporizers could ultimately foster “the widespread abandonment of combusted tobacco products”, (these are by far the most dangerous form). If these predictions are true we could see a dramatic decline in reduced disease, death and cancers all caused by smoking cigarettes. 

A 2017 study by the Drug and Alcohol Dependence group conducted some research into vaping and how likely it was to serve as a gateway to smoking. Results found that the proportion of never-smoking teenagers who tried e-cigarettes or vaporizers was small and data from the large nation cross section study provides no evidence that kids use of e-cigarettes increased smoking. If anything, the study simply enforced the opposite. Overall, young people’s use of vaporizers has been proven not to increase a future number of cigarette smokers or the number of young adults addicted to nicotine in any form. What the study more or less explains is that individuals tend to try smoking before ever advancing to e-cigarettes or vaporizers. Since a majority of adults begin to smoker in earlier life vaporizers may even give them a better chance of leading a longer and healthier life.  

Vaping VS Cigarettes 

We have already established that vaping is much better for you than cigarettes, but we haven’t fully delved into the idea of using a vaporizer to quit smoking. Like any addiction, smoking can of course prove extremely difficult to quit and some specialists recommend replacing the habit with a healthy alternative. Vaping can allow users to switch to a somewhat familiar habit and benefit massively in terms of wellbeing. These claims are backed by the US Census Data which has shown that “vaping helps more smokers to try and quit, and smokers who vape succeed in quitting more often”.  

“Use of e-cigarettes was associated both with a higher quit rate for individuals as well as at the population level; driving an increase in the overall number of people quitting,” said lead author Shu-Hong Zhu. In conclusion the study- which was based on the largest sample of e-cigarette users to date – provided a strong case for the use of vaporizers and their association with an increase in smoking cessation. This was also the first, statistically speaking significant increase observed in population smoking cessation in the last 15 years.  

The Health Risks of Vaping   

If you have done your research on the health risks of vaping then chances are that you have probably heard of the infamous ‘formaldehyde letter’. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine and conducted by a number of researchers at Portland State University. The study claims that overheating primitive top-coil clearomizers resulted in dangerous emissions of formaldehyde. If this claim was in fact true, the study was more or less saying that vaping is directly associated with an incremental lifetime cancer risk. The sensational study received worldwide publicity but there was just one problem. Not only was the research unreliable, but it was based on measurements made in ‘dry puff conditions, which no vaporizer would tolerate for more than an instant. This meant that the calculated risk of cancer was not only factually correct but highly exaggerated and like most studies on the risk of vaping spreading fear and confusion surrounding the lifestyle choice.  

Following closer inspection, the study received a large number of formal complaints and supporting letters which went as far as to say that the study needs fully retracted. Not only does research like this add to the sensational trend of scaremongering surrounding vaping but it can actually persuade users to stick with cigarettes, which in the long term can be much more harmful and detrimental to their health.  

Popcorn Lung- What is it and Should we be Worried? 

The nickname given to Bronchiolitis Obliterans, popcorn lung is a condition which damages the lung’s smallest airways, making you cough and feel short of breath. It can sometimes be caused by inhaling the chemical diacetyl, used to flavour microwave popcorn, hence its name, however other chemicals or lung illnesses can also cause the problem. So how is the condition linked to vaping?  

Breathing in any harmful chemicals, particles or toxins can lead to popcorn lung. Food flavouring fumes produced during the manufacturing of candies, potato crisps, popcorn, and dairy products can all be major culprits. Flavoured e-cigarette liquids have also been named as containing diacetyl, more notably the stronger flavoured ones. A study published in the Thorax medical journal had claimed that these flavours can in fact cause popcorn lung, adding to concern amongst experts and the safety of vaping. The problem with this study is that it was conducted with a mere eight human subjects and therefore cannot be considered definitive. For e-cigarettes to be classified as producing the same effect as long term smoking the study would require larger and longer clinical trials.  

Additionally, Cancer Research put out a contrasting statement to say that there has been no evidence to show that e-cigarette cause the disease known as popcorn lung, and that the chemical thought to be responsible- and possibly in some e-liquids once sold- has been banned for the use of e-liquids in Europe.  

What are the Causes? 

As previously mentioned, breathing in harmful chemicals and toxins, not just those included in e-liquids can be the greatest cause of popcorn lung. Substances that we come across in our daily lives can too cause this harmful disease. These include metal oxide fumes consumed by welders, sulphur dioxide caused by fossil fuels and inhaled via pollution, ammonia and chlorine. In resistance to the claims that vaping causes popcorn lung there are several studies that find vaping has no harmful effects on either the vaper or the lungs. One of the most popular and noted of these studies is that of Dr Polosa’sPolosa conducted research on that of specifically asthmatic smokers who switched to vaping or used vaping as an aid to reduce smoking. 

The study found that “the e-cig may help smokers with asthma to reduce their cigarette consumption or remain abstinent, reducing the burden of smoking-related asthma symptoms”. The positive findings discovered with the use of e-cigarettes can now allow researchers to advance the hypothesis that these products can be extremely valuable for smoking cessation and/or tobacco harm reduction in asthma patients who smoke.  

Does Nicotine Cause Cancer? 

It is safe to say that nicotine has a pretty bad reputation. Stemming from the claims surrounding the toxic carcinogens within the substance and the well-known claim that it causes cancer. When vaping first came onto the scene it was almost instantly viewed in the same light, largely because some e-cigarettes contain nicotine. As the most notorious ingredient in tobacco it is easy to see why nicotine has such a bad name, but when it comes to vaping research proves that this is not the case.  

Nicotine is not as addictive as heroin, it’s not the same as taking cocaine and it certainly won’t take over your life. Despite what we recognise as the norm there are some studies out there that question how bad nicotine is, especially in small amounts, similar to those in e-liquids. In terms of vaping French Expert Dr Etter found the hobby far less addictive than smoking and came to realise that it is actually much closer to that of nicotine replacement products. Meaning that e-cigarettes (containing nicotine) are more or less as addictive as nicotine gums. 

Can Vaping Cause Cancer? 

So, we have established that the small amounts of nicotine present in e-cigarettes is not as harmful as research has been suggesting but what about the other components of vaping. Does vapor harm our lungs? And can combustion cause Cancer? A study from researchers at the University of St Andrews devised a study into these exact questions measuring the cancer potencies of vapor and tobacco products. The findings stated that the cancer risk for vape users using their device at a normal wattage setting was almost as low as the risk of using nicotine replacement therapy products. This was impressively less than one percent.  

“Numerous anti-tobacco groups and health departments have repeatedly asserted that vaping is no less hazardous than smoking, but this claim is false”, wrote Dr Michael Siegel of Boston University. The research expert added significantly to the already substantial evidence that vaping is miles ahead in terms of safety when it comes in comparison to smoking. Overall, the study confirmed that vaping in fact does not directly cause cancer and that vaping normally in optimal combination settings will result in e-cigarette emissions, with much less carcinogenic potency than tobacco smoke.  

 

Conclusion 

While not all the evidence is in yet, there is certainly evidence that vaping is not as bad or as addictive as tobacco smoking. In fact, a lot of evidence exists that shows vaping helps people quit smoking tobacco products. All that being said, of course not smoking anything is better than smoking something and everyone should consult their doctor/physician before making any decision that could impact their long-term health. 

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