Is Vaping Safe?
Since the introduction of e-cigarettes, the number of conventional cigarette smokers has seen a steady decline. It’s safe to say that vaping has hugely impacted smoking culture and health, as it continues to grow in popularity. Still a point of contention, however, is just how safe vaping is. We discuss this below.
What is Vaping?
E-cigarettes are made of a battery, heating element or coil and an e-liquid container attached to a mouthpiece. Triggered by a button or flow sensor, they heat the e-liquid into vapor form, which is then inhaled through an attached mouthpiece. The process of inhaling this vapor is called vaping.
Since its introduction onto the market in the late 2000s, vaping has grown in popularity particularly with ex-smokers.
Side Effects of Vaping
The side effects of vaping are generally mild and may include nausea, dry mouth, eye irritation, headaches or dizziness. However, these effects are rare enough that most vapers will never experience them.
Most of the side effects of vaping are related to the ingestion of nicotine. While this may be something ex-smokers are accustomed to, new vapers may be more prone to experiencing these side effects. For this and other reasons, people without a previous smoking history are not advised to take up vaping.
If you do experience any side effects associated with vaping, it is important that you seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
Are E-liquid Ingredients Safe?
People have raised concerns about the contents of e-liquids and whether they are safe to ingest. Of particular concern are propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerine (VG). All e-liquids contain both ingredients, but in different ratios, depending on the desired effects. Here’s what you need to know about PG and VG:
What is Propylene Glycol (PG)?
PG is a colorless, odorless liquid with a thin consistency. It is used as a base in e-liquids to deliver a better ‘throat hit’ comparable to that of cigarette smoking. Higher PG ratio liquids work best with old atomizers and produce small vapor clouds. This is especially desirable for ex-smokers who are looking for a familiar experience, without the harmful effects.
PG is infamous for being mistaken for antifreeze, but the truth is that PG is one of many ingredients used to create antifreeze products. It is an extremely safe, non-toxic compound often found in food and beverages.
What is Vegetable Glycerine (VG)?
VG is also a colorless, odorless alcohol derived from vegetable oil. Unlike PG, it has a sweet taste and a thicker consistency. E-liquids with a VG base are desired for producing dense vapor clouds often seen in ‘cloud chasing’. VG is also extremely safe for ingestion and is widely used as a sweetener in many food products.
What About Diacetyl and Formaldehyde?
The use of diacetyl and formaldehyde in e-cigarettes gained media coverage in recent years, prompting people to think vaping is unsafe. Here are the facts:
Diacetyl is an organic chemical with an intense buttery flavor. It is often found in foods and additives. Persistent inhalation of diacetyl is known to cause bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as ‘popcorn lung’. It is so named because it was first identified in a group of popcorn factory workers who developed respiratory symptoms following diacetyl exposure.
Diacetyl was once a component of some e-liquid flavors including vanilla and caramel, owing to its distinct taste. Vapers using these flavors would have inhaled small amounts of the chemical and this was equated to how the popcorn factory workers were exposed to diacetyl over time however, there are no known cases of popcorn lung in vapers. Even though the media continues to suggest that vaping is a risk factor for popcorn lung, reputable health organizations report that there is still no strong evidence to support this claim.
A known carcinogen, formaldehyde is understandably not something you would want in your e-liquid. Although the small traces of formaldehyde found in e-liquid are considered safe for inhalation, it is advisable to seek out brands that do not contain the chemical at all. Always check the ingredients list, as reputable manufacturers will provide this information.
Is Vaping Safe for Children?
The legal age for purchase and use of vaping products is 21 in the U.S. (or 18 in some countries). Apart from being illegal, underage vaping can have serious consequences on health and brain development.
Pregnant women are also advised against vaping nicotine-containing products as this can harm fetal development or result in fetal nicotine addiction.
Is Passing Vaping Safe?
The effects of passive smoking have been extensively researched, with the World Health Organization reporting over 600,000 deaths each year being attributable to this. Restrictions on public smoking are tighter than ever before, in an effort to reduce the negative long-term impact on bystander health.
E-cigarette vapor on the other hand, is much safer and contains fewer harmful chemicals and carcinogens. This is supported by studies which demonstrate that passive vaping is safe.
Having said that, it is important to respect non-vapers who are in close proximity. While e-cigarette vapor is safe, bystanders may be sensitive to any form of vapor in the air and may prefer to steer clear. It is considered common courtesy to blow your vapor away from bystanders.
Vaping and Asthma
A recent study on the effects of conventional cigarette and e-cigarette use on heart and lung problems concluded that e-cigarette use alone was associated with poorer health outcomes. Symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain.
As such, people with asthma are advised to avoid vaping, as it could potentially lead to avoidable exacerbations and complications.
E-cigarette Safety Tips
An incident in 2019 left a 24-year old man with third-degree burns following a sudden vape pen explosion. This gained media coverage and has made many people doubtful of the safety of e-cigarettes.
Although this incident is serious and understandably worrisome, it is extremely rare. As a precaution, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compiled a list of safety guidelines on how to use, maintain and safely store e-cigarettes much like for your smartphone:
- Always read and understand manufacturer’s safety recommendations
- Charge your e-cigarette on a clean flat surface away from flammable material
- Immediately replace damaged batteries
- Only use batteries recommended for your device
- Do not charge your e-cigarette overnight
- Store your e-cigarette in a cool, dry environment away from extremes of temperature
Vaping and Health
Vaping is a relatively new industry, and as such, research surrounding the long-term effects will take some time to come to light. However, there is already some emerging evidence about the risk of developing certain conditions as a result of vaping.
EVALI, or ‘E-cigarette or Vaping product use Associated Lung Injury’ was first identified when six previously healthy people were admitted to hospital with chest pain, fatigue and difficulty breathing. The only common factor among them was that they all used a vaping device prior to the incident.
Following the emergence of similar cases, the Center for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) launched an official investigation. They concluded that these patients developed EVALI as a consequence of THC vaping, the main active ingredient of marijuana. Black market THC products often contain vitamin E acetate, which makes the liquid thicker and easier to vape. When inhaled however, vitamin E acetate creates a greasy coating inside the lungs, causing severe inflammation.
It is a well-known fact that tobacco cigarettes contain an array of carcinogens, making it the leading cause of lung cancer worldwide.
In comparison, e-cigarettes contain little to no carcinogens.
Studies have revealed a link between heavy vaping and lung inflammation. Vaping is also known to temporarily damage the mucociliary apparatus in the lungs. These are small hair-like protrusions that help clear harmful substances and mucus out of the lungs, keeping them free of infection.
Apart from these findings, there is no other research demonstrating that vaping causes severe lung damage.
Health Organisation Recommendations
While neither vaping nor smoking should be considered healthy, vaping is far less harmful to the body. Reputable organisations such as the World Health Organization recommend vaping for people seeking a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, which has been linked to various cardiopulmonary conditions, including cancer.
Although vaping has its risks, the benefits far outweigh these for people looking to quit tobacco cigarettes. E-liquid ingredients contain significantly fewer harmful chemicals and there have been no studies to date that link vaping to severe illnesses such as those caused by conventional cigarette smoking.
Despite research being in the fairly early stages, vaping is already largely considered a healthier alternative to reduce the harm done by cigarette smoking.
We advise purchasing your vaping products from trustworthy brands and always checking the ingredients to ensure there are no harmful additives. Although people rarely experience side effects from vaping, immediately seek advice from your healthcare provider if you feel unwell following vaping.
People that are pregnant, under 21 in the U.S. (or 18 in other countries), have a history of asthma or those who have never smoked, are strongly advised not to start vaping.