Vaping is Not a Safe Alternative to Traditional Smoking
Vaping, or using e-cigarettes, has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Some medical professionals, including public health workers, saw e-cigarettes as a panacea to… Trista - October 1, 2019
Vaping, or using e-cigarettes, has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Some medical professionals, including public health workers, saw e-cigarettes as a panacea to help smokers quit. Teenagers, who were not previously using cigarettes, became drawn to the devices, which can be tracked with a smartphone and charged in a USB port. Vaping packs come in tens of thousands of flavors, like Skittles, which have a broad appeal to both children and adults.
However, the popularity of vaping among children has raised concerns over the public health issues associated with e-cigarettes. Particularly concerning is that in recent months, there has been one death after another directly connected to vaping.
Maybe e-cigarettes are helpful for people who are already addicted to nicotine, but they are also bringing nicotine addictions to a whole new generation. Health officials who previously hailed the use of e-cigarettes are now seeing them as a scourge, bringing with them a whole new host of health problems to people who think vaping is safe and even healthy.
The question that many are asking is if tobacco companies are responsible for getting so many people addicted to nicotine, can we really trust them to provide us with a solution, in the form of e-cigarettes? To learn more about the rise of vaping and concerns associated with it, keep reading.
1. Vaping Is Seen As An Alternative To Smoking
The popularity of e-cigarettes began with people seeing them as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Medical professionals and public health officials have long been raising concerns over the dangers of smoking cigarettes and advocating for policy changes. However, millions of Americans – along with hundreds of millions of people across the world – remained addicted.
The nicotine patches that came out in the 1990s were seen as a safe way of delivering nicotine to people who wanted to stop smoking, but they only helped a small proportion of smokers actually quit. E-cigarettes had social appeal – part of the draw to cigarettes – and nicotine, but with far fewer harmful chemicals.
Back in the 1950s, before there were any regulations in place for advertising tobacco products, smoking was seen as not just benign; it was seen as healthy. One commercial by the Camel company promoted its product by claiming that more doctors smoke Camel cigarettes than any other brand!
But we now know that cigarettes are far from benign. They contain hundreds of harmful chemicals, many of which are carcinogens. Carcinogens are substances that cause cancer. In addition to cancer and other deadly illnesses, cigarettes cause a whole host of health problems, not to mention financial ones from the drain they put on people’s wallets.
People who smoke regularly are three times more likely to die prematurely than people who have never smoked. So when you consider that many smokers are college-educated professionals with successful careers, the danger seems to be in the cigarettes themselves, not in a particular lifestyle that may be associated with smoking.
According to the Center for Disease Control, smoking is the single most preventable cause of death. If you are a smoker, the best thing that you can do for your health is to stop smoking. However, easier said than done when one’s brain is addicted to nicotine.
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord; any damage done to these delicate organs can be permanent. Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, reaches the brain within seconds of each inhalation. It activates parts of the brain and makes the smoker feel energized. When the effects wear off, the smoker feels the craving for another cigarette. This is the pattern of addiction.
Withdrawal from nicotine can impair cognitive function and cause the person to become irritable and moody. It can also cause headaches and sleep problems, which exacerbate the complications of withdrawal. This is why many people who try to quit are unable to.
Possibly the most well-known disease associated with cigarette smoking is lung cancer. Indeed, the vast majority of people who develop lung cancer are habitual, heavy smokers. Cigarettes contain so many harmful chemicals that, after decades of use, a smoker’s lungs often resemble those of a coal miner’s.
In addition to lung cancer, smoking can cause emphysema, a condition in which the sacs that line the lungs are destroyed, and breathing becomes difficult. Smokers can also develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis, both of which can severely inhibit one’s quality of life. These conditions can develop in people even after they have quit.
People who smoke have a far higher risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke than people who don’t. The nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict, leading to peripheral artery disease. Smoking also raises blood pressure and increases the risks of developing clots.
People who smoke have weaker blood vessels, so their hearts are not as efficient at getting blood to circulate throughout the body. They are much more prone to heart attacks, and heart surgeons see a disproportionate number of smokers compared to nonsmokers. Smokers are also less likely to recover from cardiovascular disease than those who don’t smoke.
7. Smoking Also Affects Your Skin, Hair, And Nails
Some people say that spotting a smoker is easy, and more often than not, they are right. People who smoke experience changes in the structure of their skin. It may become drawn, tight, and yellow or pallid. Smokers are also much more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
In addition to causing changes in the skin, smoking increases the risk of developing fungal infections in the nailbed. The immune system becomes so weakened by the toxic chemicals in cigarettes that it is unable to fight off these invaders, and they find an easy host.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with people whose lifestyles are particularly unhealthy, leading their bodies to become insulin-resistant. Their bodies require higher and higher levels of insulin for the hormone to do its job; at a certain point, the insulin is no longer absorbed, and both sugar and insulin build up in the bloodstream to dangerous levels. If not mitigated, this toxic buildup – which is identified as type 2 diabetes – can cause permanent damage and even death.
People who smoke are much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes because of the harm that smoking causes on the metabolism. Smoking also harms the pancreas – the organ responsible for the secretion and absorption of insulin – and leads to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
People who live with a smoker often have the same symptoms and the same toxic buildup inside their lungs as people who smoke a pack a day. This effect is known as secondhand smoke – being around people who smoke exposes nonsmokers to inhale the same toxic stew and experience the same health effects.
Many people who smoke know that what they are doing is dangerous, both for themselves and the people around them. And many, many of them want to quit. They often say that they want to stop for their families because they see how much their habit is harming their loved ones. However, dropping a bad habit is much easier said than done.
Nicotine patches came with the promise that they would help people quit smoking. However, after using them, only a few people successfully kicked the habit. Many who did stop became addicted again when they breathed in the secondhand smoke of someone else. That’s because quitting is not just about nicotine withdrawal.
Smokers are some of the most ardent supporters for legislation that curbs the power of tobacco companies and for steeper regulation of tobacco products. They know that the easiest way to quit smoking is to never start in the first place.
Fully 90% of smokers began smoking when they were under the age of 18. For this reason, smoking is considered to be a pediatric disease. Addressing smoking as a public health issue means raising awareness and issuing policies that prevent children from ever picking up a cigarette.
The younger someone is when he or she first smokes a cigarette, the more likely that person is to become addicted, and the more likely that person will remain addicted for life. If children under the age of 18 do not smoke, they are likely not to desire cigarettes as adults.
Cigarettes cost between about $6 and $8 a pack, which may not sound like much at first. However, many users smoke a pack a day, which means that they spend about $75 a week on the habit. That adds up to over $300 every single month and $3600 every single year. Parents who smoke are burning through the money that could put their children through college.
Taxes on cigarettes were introduced as a way to discourage people from smoking. The thinking was that making cigarettes more expensive would make it cost-prohibitive. While cigarette taxes may have helped discourage some people from smoking, for people who are already addicted, the fees have made the habit even more damaging.
Epigenetics refers to how exposure to chemicals and other environmental factors actually change someone’s genetic makeup. Smoking is known to have epigenetic effects, meaning that it can change a person’s DNA. These changes could make the person even more likely to develop cancer or other terminal illnesses.
Epigenetic changes to DNA are also passed down to the person’s children. So if someone began smoking at the age of 15 and had a child at the age of 30, the acquired effects of smoking will have likely caused alterations to the DNA that the child will inherit. The child could then be more prone to developing asthma, cancer, or other diseases associated with DNA.
People who smoke have much higher rates of infertility. Short-term smoking can increase the risk of infertility for several months, while long-term smoking can make a person permanently unable to have children. Frequently, infertility is not diagnosed until the person is trying to have a child; while a teenager may not be concerned about the long-term effect of infertility when he or she first picks up a cigarette, the news of infertility may be heart-breaking a decade later.
Smoking harms just about every aspect of the reproductive system. Women who smoke are more likely to develop cervical cancer and also to experience early menopause. With early menopause can come an increased risk of osteoporosis and other diseases associated with the drop-off in estrogen.
15. Children Exposed To Cigarette Smoke May Develop Asthma
Children who grow up breathing dirty air are much more likely to develop asthma. Studies in the Bronx borough of New York City showed that the emissions from car exhaust, heating pipes, and other air-polluting sources were causing far higher numbers of children to become asthmatic.
Children whose parents smoke, or who spend much time with a friend whose parents smoke, are much more likely to develop asthma than children whose parents do not smoke. Having asthma can keep them from playing sports in school and can inhibit their overall quality of life.
A Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik developed the first device that can be classified as an “e-cigarette.” After his father, a lifelong smoker, died from lung cancer, Lik wanted to create a product that could help people kick the habit for good. He named his product Ruyan, which means “like smoke” and became the name of a parent company for many e-cig products.
The first e-cigarette hit the market in the United States in the year 2003 and was available for sale in China the next year. The device that Lik patented in 2003 underwent numerous technological changes over the next decade or so, changes that increased its appeal and popularity across lifelong smokers.
The most significant appeal of e-cigarettes, among both smokers and public health officials, is that they contain the nicotine that smokers crave but without the cacophony of harmful chemicals. In a laboratory test by British American Tobacco, researchers showed that e-cigarettes are up to 95% cleaner than traditional cigarettes.
This led to many people quickly assuming the e-cigarettes were safer than traditional cigarettes. People with nicotine additions could satisfy their cravings without inhaling the tar, and other carcinogenic compounds find in traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes began to be marketed as healthy alternatives. And sometimes, not even as alternatives. Just plain healthy.
18. Health Officials In The United Kingdom Promoted The Use Of E-Cigarettes
The tobacco industry has its roots in the United Kingdom. Many parts of the British Empire, including the American colonies, were colonized so that tobacco could be grown. Tobacco companies in the UK long had a cozy relationship with the government until the public health dangers over smoking became apparent.
In the UK, cigarette packs have large labels about the dangers of smoking. Eager to embrace an alternative that could help even more people kick the habit, the government adopted a platform that promoted the use of e-cigarettes and vaping, as they could help people stop smoking. In fact, doctors on the National Health Service could issue prescriptions for e-cigarettes.
When Americans jump on a fad, they do so wholeheartedly. Think about the Atkins craze and keto diets. When “the next big thing” comes to America, it comes all the way. So that’s precisely what happened with vaping. Companies like Blu and Juul took to Instagram and other social media platforms to amass followers. What they got was a whole new generation of smokers.
By 2015, there seemed to be a vape store in just about every city. Whereas there are restrictions on tobacco companies promoting their products, such as through product placement in movies and television shows, those restrictions don’t apply to e-cigarettes. So celebrities appeared on late-night television shows and endorsed vaping products.
It was almost like we had a new Marlboro man to bring smoking to a whole new generation. Smoking, er, vaping, was healthy, fun, and sexy.
20. But The Long-Term Effects Of Vaping Had Not Been Studied
Yes, e-cigarettes don’t have the same toxic sludge inside of them that traditional cigarettes have. However, that does not make them safe. It does not even make them a safe alternative. For one, nicotine may be the red herring in addiction – it takes the blame for a behavior that is very complicated and multi-dimensional.
E-cigarettes have nicotine in them, but nicotine is not the culprit in addiction. Furthermore, nicotine is advocated, especially by e-cigarette fans, as not being dangerous, just addictive. However, that is simply untrue. Nicotine itself, even when unaccompanied by other substances, causes damage to the brain and spinal cord. Finding a safer way to deliver nicotine may not be the solution. Moreover, as it turns out, this “safer” method is not all that safe.
The most ardent supporters of e-cigarettes are people who managed to stop smoking when they turned to vaping. However, statistically, as many as 90% of people who vape also use traditional cigarettes. This fact raises the concern that vaping keeps people smoking longer than if they had looked towards another means to quit.
There is no denying that a puff of e-liquid – the substance that fills an e-cigarette – is less dangerous than a drag of a traditional cigarette. However, that doesn’t make e-cigarettes safe, or even a safer alternative, primarily when they are used with conventional cigarettes.
Nicotine is harmful in and of itself. It is a stimulant, meaning that it increases nerve activity and cardiovascular function. So does caffeine, leading some e-cigarette advocates to claim that e-cigarettes have the same effect on the body as coffee. However, that is not true. Nicotine is far more dangerous than caffeine.
While e-liquids may have fewer chemicals than traditional cigarettes, they have much higher concentrations of nicotine, often to levels that are poisonous. Vaping affects people’s blood vessels and can cause an increased risk of heart disease, especially in people who are already genetically predisposed.
23. E-Cigarettes Being Marketed As Healthy Is A Public Health Concern
Back in the heyday of tobacco advertising, when Lucy and Ricky smoked in their apartment and appeared in cigarette commercials, smoking was advocated as more than socially appealing. It was explicitly marketed as healthy. So who doesn’t want to improve their health?
The same thing is happening now with e-cigarettes. They are not just being marketed to people who are habitual smokers like the nicotine patch was. They are being marketed to everyone. Moreover, to today’s health-conscious generation, they are being sold as healthy. People are jumping on the vaping train because they want to be healthy, too.
24. Especially When They Get In The Hands Of Children
Claims that e-cigarettes are “healthy” has made them very accessible. So accessible that teenagers don’t seem to have much difficulty getting them. E-cigarettes are particularly appealing to the “smartphone generation” of kids who want to try the latest and greatest technology.
Some e-cigarettes are designed to look like USB devices and even charge in USB ports. This means that today’s tech-savvy kids can use them without anyone knowing what they are doing. It is not unheard of for high school students to vape in class when the teacher’s back is turned.
25. One Myth About Vaping Is That It Produces Vapors
“Vaping” is so named because of the idea that inhaling the e-liquid produces “vapors.” And what could be harmful about breathing in water vapor that is laced with some healthy additives? Well, the fact is that vaping actually produces aerosols, not vapors. Aerosols are dangerous, indeed.
These aerosols are not laced with healthy additives but with heavy metals like cadmium and lead, as well as arsenic and chromium. While the e-liquids themselves may not contain heavy metals, they are found in the coils that heat up when the person inhales. Even if the e-liquid is safe, the cigarette is not.
26. The E-Liquids Are Not As Safe As It Claims To Be
The term “vaping” has been replaced by words like “Juuling,” referring to the popular brand of e-cigarettes and e-liquids. The company produces some of the – get this – 15,000 flavors of e-liquids available on the market today. Also, with names like “Skittles,” “Dragon Blood,” and “Unicorn Puke,” the name alone is appealing to children. Many contain nicotine that is concentrated to toxic levels, as well as other harmful chemicals.
While e-cigarettes may have been created as an alternative to tobacco smoking, they have turned into an industry that is creating a whole new generation of smokers. Cigarette smokers don’t need 15,000 flavors to stop using tobacco. E-cigarettes are now their own industry.
We know that people die from smoking cigarettes. What people didn’t anticipate when e-cigarettes came onto the scene was that people would die from vaping. After all, vaping was a safer alternative to smoking, and it was healthy!
As of September 2019, over a dozen people have died from vaping. With still no long-term studies on the effects of vaping, medical professionals and public health officials aren’t sure what it is in e-cigarettes that are killing people. There are suspicions about certain compounds like THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis, but nothing conclusive can be said.
Our lungs were designed for inhaling oxygen so that it can be transported throughout the body and exhale carbon dioxide, the waste product of cellular respiration. They were not designed to cope with foreign substances, especially the chemicals found in cigarettes, be they traditional cigarettes or e-cigarettes.
Many people who have become ill from vaping had no previous respiratory condition before they began using e-cigarettes. They began to develop respiratory problems afterward, and some of those problems became fatal. The symptoms tend to start mildly and become progressively worse.
Many e-liquids contain an ingredient called propylene glycol. Propylene glycol irritates the eyes and airways. When it is heated, as it is in e-cigarettes, it transforms into acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, both of which are known carcinogens.
However, what may even be more disturbing, especially from the standpoint of public health, is that the particles inside the aerosol created by vaping are much smaller and finer than the particles created by traditional cigarettes. These particles can lodge themselves deeper into the lungs. While they may not be as toxic on their own, they can cause much more damage – and faster deterioration – than smoking traditional cigarettes.
What is particularly concerning about e-cigarettes is just how many kids are using them. As of September 2019, fully one out of every four high school seniors have vaped within the past month. Nearly 10% of eighth-graders are using e-cigarettes. That number is more than double what it was only two years ago.
What we could soon be facing is another public health crisis that mirrors the one that e-cigarettes were meant to solve: smoking. More kids than ever are becoming addicted to nicotine, and this addiction is coming through e-cigarettes. It seems that over the long term, the cure – vaping – may actually be worse than the disease.
Vaping-related illnesses are quickly on the rise, and in rare cases, they lead to death. There have been over 800 cases of vaping-related diseases as of the middle of September 2019, with dozens of new cases every day. Over half the people getting sick are under 25, and 16% of them are under 18.
These statistics show a disproportionate number of young people getting sick compared to the overall number of people who vape. Even more concerning is that these people who are getting sick are not vaping to overcome an addiction to traditional cigarettes. Many of them began vaping without having ever picked up a conventional cigarette.
Vaping was first promoted as a panacea to help people stop smoking, but it has since morphed into a public health crisis. The growing numbers of people, especially children, who are getting sick from vaping, combined with the dearth of long-term studies on the effects of vaping, have public health officials growing increasingly concerned.
We don’t know what the effects of vaping are on people’s brains, especially on children’s minds that are still developing. We also don’t know the long-term effects of the exceptionally high doses of nicotine that vapers are inhaling. We don’t know what the future holds, and this is particularly scary considering that the use of e-cigarettes continues to rise.
33. The Center For Disease Control Is Now Involved
With the rise in vaping-related illnesses and the deaths that have occurred, especially during the summer of 2019, the Center for Disease Control is now investigating hundreds of the reported cases. They want to know what it is about e-liquids and e-cigarettes that is making people sick.
Vaping, especially among children, is now being seen as an epidemic. Public health officials and medical professionals are warning people to stop vaping immediately. Until we know what the long-term effects of vaping are and what is causing people to get sick, people should stop altogether.
The best answer is neither, but from the perspective of public health, that answer only works in a perfect world. At the heart of the problem is not e-cigarettes themselves, but the fact that they are marketed as healthy. There are very few regulations around them, so they are used frequently in product placement, which appeals primarily to children.
Vaping is probably still better than traditional cigarettes, but only to a certain extent. If smokers are vaping in addition to using tobacco, then there is probably no benefit to vaping. However, if they are vaping to wean themselves off of cigarettes and quit altogether, then vaping is perhaps the best choice.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are our Sources:
“The Effects of Smoking on the Body.” Healthline. “What You Should Know About Vaping and E-Cigarettes,” by Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin. Ted Med. “E-Cigarettes: Welcome Back, Big Tobacco.” The Fifth Estate. “Eighth death linked to vaping as illnesses surge around the United States,” by Jen Christensen and Jamie Gumbrecht. CNN. September 20, 2019.