Vaping is a very popular alternative to tobacco around the world, especially among the younger population. Is there any justification for this trend? Are we doing less harm to our health by switching to e-cigarettes? Is it completely safe to use liquids without nicotine?
What is vaping? Is it better than tobacco?
Vaping is the inhalation of aerosols through devices, such as electronic cigarettes. Aerosols are liquids (also known as e-liquids) that can contain various substances, including nicotine. The basic liquid is usually a mixture of water, glycerin and propylene glycol. Various aromas or additives are added to create a specific flavor. Many ingredients are recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe for use in the food industry. But almost no studies suggest that these ingredients are safe when evaporated and inhaled .
Available evidence suggests that smoking is more harmful than vaping . However, some research shows that e-cigarettes are also dangerous to people’s health . This is supported by the fact that e-cigarette liquids may contain substances that, for example, could be responsible for lung diseases.
A smoker can inhale about 7,000 chemicals, while vaping probably involves fewer inhaled chemicals , since vaping liquids contain fewer pollutants than cigarettes. On the other hand, e-cigarettes can contain a large dose of nicotine , which slows brain development in fetuses, children, and adolescents. E-liquid can be dangerous to adults and children if swallowed or if it comes into contact with skin. Hazardous chemicals can be present in vape liquids, including diacetyl, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds. These chemicals can cause serious illness.
According to research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 2,807 vaping hospitalizations or deaths occurred in early 2020. The CDC also states that by removing vitamin E acetate from e-liquid and other harmful ingredients, the number of unwanted symptoms has decreased
Unlike vaping, many studies have shown that smoking is detrimental to human health . The CDC indicates that smoking causes organ damage, deaths (90% of all lung cancer deaths and about 80% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths), and an increased risk of death, heart disease and accidents cerebrovascular.
The long-term effects of tobacco
Smoking for a long time has many harmful effects on the body . Believe it or not, it not only causes lung damage like COPD or recurrent asthma attacks, it also affects reproductive health . It reduces the number of sperm in men, while in women, it increases the risk of miscarriage or congenital abnormalities in the fetus. It also increases the risk of cataracts , circulatory problems , increasing the risk of heart attack, and a worsening of the functioning of the immune system .
One of the most problematic consequences, and one that we have all heard about countless times, is the development of cancer . Most often it causes lung, kidney and stomach cancer, although it is associated with many more types.
The long-term effects of vaping
There are also long-term effects of vaping, but since it has been on the market for a relatively short time, the data is still limited .
The idea of vaping was for smokers to obtain nicotine more safely, sometimes as a method of quitting smoking (progressively reducing the amounts of nicotine). However, there is evidence that it is more harmful than initially believed.
Vaping can cause lung problems, cancer, a weakened immune system, and slow brain development. Not to mention that there have also been cases of burns when filling an electronic cigarette due to defective batteries.
Something interesting is that vaping has made new diseases appear that did not exist until now. Among them, the most notable is vaping-associated lung injury , also known as VAPI or EVALI for its acronym in English ( Vape-Associated Pulmonary Injury / E-cigarretes or Vaping Associated Lung Injury ). The symptoms are quite similar to those of pneumonia, an infection in the lungs that causes fever, cough with expectoration or shortness of breath. But the difference from pneumonia is that VAPI doesn’t have an infectious agent to kill, so it doesn’t respond to antibiotics. It is worth mentioning that since it is a new pathology, there is still much to know about it, but at the moment, around 80% of the reported cases have been associated with the use of CBD or marijuana products in vapers. The remaining 20% has not been associated with factors other than vaping.
And vaping without nicotine? Is it also harmful?
It is true that vaping without nicotine avoids both the usual addiction to nicotine and its side effects , but that does not mean that it does not have side effects at all.
E-liquids have toxicity that may be due to the chemical substances that are added to them, such as those that have the function of flavoring the liquid. It is also the case that when certain components of e-liquids are heated, they create compounds that release formaldehyde , which is carcinogenic, meaning it has the potential to cause cancer.
Some manufacturers add vitamin E acetate to e -cigarette liquids to thicken or dilute them, which makes the substance sticky and can cause lung damage.
Vaping as a method to quit smoking
People may think that vaping is a good way to quit smoking. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for that purpose . The American Heart Association believes that using e-cigarettes to quit smoking can lead to dual use, where you end up smoking and vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people use FDA-approved methods to quit smoking .
However, some studies show that vaping can be an effective method of quitting smoking when compared to other methods that use nicotine replacement.
Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 8 million deaths worldwide each year , and of these deaths, at least one million of them were second-hand smokers (people who do not smoke but are exposed to secondhand smoke).
Therefore, the risks of cigarette smoking are currently more important than the risks of vaping. Of course vaping is healthier than smoking, as almost anything is healthier than smoking, but that is not to say that vaping is not bad for your health. Although many manufacturers claim that their vaping products are completely safe, there is increasing evidence to suggest that vaping also carries health risks.
More scientific studies are needed to understand the long-term risks of vaping . For now, initial research shows that vaping, with or without nicotine, is harmful to the human body.
Outbreak of lung injuries associated with the use of electronic cigarette or vaping products. (2020). CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/spanish/enfermedad-pulmonar-serious/index.html
BlueGlobule (2020). The science of vaping | Is vaping better than smoking? | The whole truth [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74k-7lx6CeQ
Hajek P, Phillips-Waller A, Przulj D, Pesola F, Myers Smith K, Bisal N et al. (2019). A Randomized Trial of E-Cigarettes versus Nicotine-Replacement Therapy. The New England journal of medicine, 380 (7), 629–637. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1808779
Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking (2021). CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm
Is Vaping Better Than Smoking? (2018). American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking-tobacco/is-vaping-safer-than-smoking
Tobacco (2021). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco#:~:text=Cada%20a%C3%B1o%2C%20m%C3%A1s%20de%208,no %20smokers%20al%20smoke%20foreign.