Smoking is known to cause lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, stroke, and many other serious maladies. According to the CDC, smoking takes 10 years of life expectancy away from smokers and is the leading cause of preventable death in America today.
That leaves smoking as the undisputed champion of dangerous substances.
Why Do Most Experts Believe Vaping is Safer Than Smoking?
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a 600 page report in 2018 that says, “There is conclusive evidence that completely substituting e-cigarettes for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes.”
While that answer seems pretty ironclad, it’s not the whole story. The NAS study didn’t focus on one type of vaping product. Vaping could be more dangerous if the liquid you heat and inhale contains more toxic substances than the average cigarette.
The difficulty here is that these products still remain mostly unregulated. Consumers pretty much have to trust that the product actually contains exactly what the manufacturer claims.
It’s the Wild West Out There
In 2010, a federal court ruled that the FDA could regulate e-cigarettes since they were tobacco products. The FDA did create a rule to regulate e-cigarette that they intended to introduce in 2016. But, after Dr. Scott Gottlieb took over as FDA commissioner after the 2016 presidential election, he pushed back implementing this rule to 2022.
In 2019, another federal court ordered that the FDA must put regulatory rules governing e-cigarettes in place by May, 2020. No one knows if these regulations will actually go into effect.
What we do know is that the FDA has found tobacco derivatives in an e-cigarette product that the manufacturer promoted as “tobacco free.” The FDA also found a toxic chemical typically included in car anti-freeze and formaldehyde in some e-cigarettes. In fact, e-cigarettes contain many of the same toxic additives as tobacco cigarettes.
E-cigarette aerosols can have toxinss and carcinogens just like traditional cigarettes. How many of these substances are in a particular vaping product is anyone’s guess, unless a reputable independent lab tests the product.
Health Problems Caused By E-Cigarettes
Recently, a large number of states and municipalities have cracked down on public vaping. The CDC reported in February, 2020 that vaping had caused 68 deaths and more than 2,800 hospitalizations. Vaping has caused so many lung problems, that doctors coined a specific name for this condition in 2019: E-cigarette or Vaping-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI).
EVALI patients are often young, otherwise healthy people who come for treatment suffering from serious lung infections. EVALI sufferers die at an alarming rate. The CDC found that EVALI patients typically had vitamin E acetate their lungs, which is often used as an additive in e-cigarette marijuana products.
Doctors find EVALI hard to diagnose because there isn’t a test for it. Right now, all they have is a profile of a typical patient, which is simply young people who use vaping products, and a set of reported symptoms. The problem is that the condition presents in many different ways. It can cause pneumonia. EVALI can also cause damage to alveoli (air sacs in the lung), or cause serve inflammation in a patient’s airways.
Though the CDC suspects that vitamin E acetate could cause EVALI, they have not identified any single substance that is responsible for these cases. People who use Dank Vape, which is a line of e-cigarette marijuana products, often suffer from EVALI.
Many now wonder if vaping is worse than smoking. Most experts still believe that smoking is more dangerous, but the question isn’t as clear as everyone assumed in the recent past.
The American Chemical Society reported that e-cigarettes can mutate human DNA in 2018, After a short, 15-minute vaping session, researchers discovered increased levels of toxic substances like acrolein and formaldehyde in the saliva of test subjects.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) also showed that mice exposed to e-cigarette vapor suffered from DNA mutations that cause lung and bladder cancer. This evidence suggests that e-cigarettes aren’t as safe as manufacturers claimed when they introduced these products.
While the NAS study cited above shows that e-cigarettes users inhale fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarette smokers, no study indicates that vaping is less harmful to long-term health.
Dangers of Vaping
1. Heating additives: these chemicals help the liquid turn into vapor. Many e-cigarettes contain propylene glycol, which can create up to 15 times the formaldehyde vapor that traditional cigarettes produce.
2. Metal cartridges: vaping products typically provide re-usable cartridges to hold the vaping liquid. Repeated use could expose the user’s lungs to metal ions. Metal ions are chemically active compounds that can cause mutation.
3. Flavor additives: many e-cigarette products don’t just have nicotine or THC, they also include fruit flavors like strawberry, grape, and watermelon. Currently, these substances aren’t regulated by any federal agency.
4. High nicotine content: many vaping products give their users a bigger nicotine “hit” than traditional cigarettes. In the end, they can be more addictive than cigarettes.
5. Explode in mouth: vaping systems can occasionally explode while being used. Since these products often include metal cartridges, this can cause shrapnel to lodge in the mouth and throat.
Vaping Doesn’t Help People Quit Smoking
In 2018, researchers found that 90% of e-cigarette users were still smoking cigarettes after one year. Even though e-cigarette users said they were trying to quit far more often than regular smokers, they didn’t give up the habit any more often.
Many other long-term experiments show similar results.
Some studies report that e-cigarette can help some users quit smoking. Most of these experiments were either short-term (under 6 months) or used a small sample size. There is no long-term study that shows e-cigarettes help users quit.
Popular With Kids
A lot of teenagers and even middle-school kids are trying out e-cigarettes. Recent surveys report that more than three million middle and high-school students have vaped. Of the middle-schoolers who vape, 20% had never smoked regular cigarettes.
The problem here is that many experts believe that kids who would never have tried cigarettes are taking up vaping. They believe one big reason is that the fruit flavors appeal to kids. Kids also think vaping isn’t as dangerous as smoking. Vaping is also less stigmatized than smoking and doesn’t produce the same pungent odor that annoys non-smokers.
If the vape kids behave smokers, then those extra users could lead to a lot more addicted adults. Nine out of 10 adult smokers said they tried cigarettes before their 18th birthday.
E-cigarette manufacturers know these numbers well. While the federal government has banned cigarette companies from aiming marketing campaigns at children, these rules don’t apply to vaping firms. In fact, they seem to be actively targeting kids by producing vape flavors that resemble candy.
We can see the results in the more than 200 calls a month poison control hotlines receive about kids under six-years-old due to vaping. Children are even more vulnerable than teenagers and young adults.
Not only can they suffer from EVALI, experts believe that e-cigarettes could damage brain development in young children.
E-cigarettes Could Be More Addictive Than Smoking
Many e-cigarettes produce products that contain a high dose of nicotine; it’s sort of like telling the bartender to “make it a double.” Cigarette manufacturers used to spike the nicotine content of their products to addict users faster. Now, the unregulated e-cigarette manufacturers do this openly.
E-cigarettes users can also increase the intensity of the “hit” by cranking up the voltage, which makes a higher concentration of liquid turn into vapor. Cigarette users can’t do this, and it could make vaping harder to give up than smoking.
This is big problem when vaping companies insist they help tobacco users quit smoking.
The reason is, e-cigarettes haven’t been around long enough, and not enough research exists yet on the longterm effects of vaping.
With that said, it’s pretty clear that neither vaping and smoking should be considered safe behaviors. And you definitely should not assume that vaping is safer than smoking, at least not until more research is performed.
Thank you so much for reading and as always, breathe easy my friend.
The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article:
- “Electronic Cigarettes. Potential Harms and Benefits.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Feb. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469426.
- Rehan, Harmeet Singh. “Vaping versus Smoking: A Quest for Efficacy and Safety of E-Cigarette.” PubMed, 24 Sept. 2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29485005.
- “Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 Sept. 2020, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm.
- “The Dangers of Vaping.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Mar. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7144697.
- “Health Impact of E-Cigarettes: A Prospective 3.5-Year Study of Regular Daily Users Who Have Never Smoked.” PubMed Central (PMC), 24 Sept. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693960.
- “Is Vaping Better Than Smoking?” American Heart Association, 30 Oct. 2018, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking-tobacco/is-vaping-safer-than-smoking.