Vaping: A Safe or Dangerous Alternative to Smoking?
E-cigarettes are the most common tobacco product used by today’s youth. In 2016, two million middle and high school students in the U.S. said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 60 days. But it’s not just a youth habit. In 2014,12.6 percent of adults had tried an e-cigarette, with 3.7 percent of adults using e-cigarettes regularly.
Is vaping a safer alternative than regular cigarettes, or does it present the same — or different — health hazards?
What Is Vaping?
Vaping, the inhaling and exhaling of vapors from e-cigarettes, is growing in popularity among American youths and adults. E-cigarettes are comprised of a rechargeable lithium battery, an atomizer, a cartridge with nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals, an LED light and a sensor. The battery powers the atomizer, which heats the cartridge, releasing the nicotine and other chemicals that are inhaled and exhaled from the device. The sensor activates the LED light to simulate a burning cigarette.
E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, an ingredient in regular cigarettes, but instead of the usual cigarette smoke, the vapor in the e-cigarette takes on the flavor and smell that is in the cartridge, which is often a popular fruit flavor.
Because e-cigarettes don’t emit the usual cloud of smoke, some users mistakenly believe vaping isn’t harmful. While e-cigarettes may not contain tobacco, they do contain a key ingredient in tobacco — nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive substance that acts as a stimulant and can increase heart rate, blood pressure and activity in the intestines.
Questionable Benefits for E-Cigarettes?
While vaping doesn’t involve ingesting tobacco, smokers are still ingesting nicotine and other chemicals. For regular smokers who want a substitute as they try to quit, vaping may be a useful transition, as long as the smokers completely switch from regular cigarettes and do not combine their use. But concerns remain. The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes as a means to stop smoking. What’s more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says e-cigarettes are not safe for youth,
young adults, pregnant women or anyone who isn’t using a tobacco product.
Researchers also question if vaping actually does help people quit smoking regular cigarettes. In contrast, they say it may be the other way around. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that teens who vaped were more likely to start smoking regular cigarettes than teens who didn’t vape.
Side Effects of E-Cigarettes
In addition to addiction and the intake of chemicals and nicotine, e-cigarettes have triggered other health issues. Although a rare case, a teenager developed “wet lung” (or hypersensitivity pneumonitis) and acute respiratory distress syndrome after vaping for only three weeks. Although she was previously healthy, she quickly developed a cough, difficulty breathing and chest pain. She was intubated and fluid was removed from her lungs as part of her successful treatment.
Additionally, explosions in the battery of the e-cigarettes have led to nearly 200 injuries and recently, the death of a Florida man.
Bottom Line on Vaping
A recent study by the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine found that although e-cigarettes may be harmful, they are less harmful than conventional cigarettes. While they might help adults quit smoking, they may encourage youth to start smoking.
For youth and adults, a rule of thumb with vaping is if you don’t currently smoke or vape, now is not the time to start.
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