The introduction of e-cigarettes has been hailed both as a safer (some say healthier) alternative to traditional tobacco smoking and as a habit that is equally if not more harmful. E-cigarettes are handheld devices that vaporize a liquid that often contains nicotine (but not tobacco) along with glycerine, flavorings (e.g., chocolate, cherry, vanilla), and propylene glycol. Using e-cigarettes is commonly referred to as vaping.
Tobacco smoking is the world’s largest preventable killer, causing the demise of half of everyone who actively smokes and millions more who are affected by secondhand smoke. By the end of the century, a billion people will have succumbed to this toxic habit, according to the World Health Organization.
How could e-cigarettes be both safe and harmful? If you think back to how cigarette smoking used to be marketed more than sixty years ago, it’s not difficult to see why there can still exist an allure or “coolness” about smoking that some people don’t want to shake. Even though the percentage of people who smoke cigarettes has declined in recent years, the idea that vaping can replace or help prevent tobacco use is debatable.
The controversy over the pros and cons of vaping is as hot and heavy as the vapor. One of the “pro” arguments regarding e-cigarettes is that users are less likely to go on to smoke traditional cigarettes. In fact, a new study from the Royal College of Physicians reported that using e-cigarettes was “an important means to reduce the harm to individuals and society from tobacco use.” The authors of the study stated that there’s no “demonstrated evidence of significant progression into smoking among young people” who engage in vaping.
However, the findings of this study go against those of much other research, including one US study that included young adults (18-26). It showed that vaping was associated with eight times higher odds of adopting conventional cigarettes. New research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care reported that even if teenagers who vape don’t turn to tobacco, the e-cigarettes can harm their health. The University of Southern California researchers reported an association between using e-cigarettes and bronchitis, congestion, and persistent cough in the Southern California Children’s Health Study.
Yet another new study reports that vaping appears to cause just as much damage to the gums and teeth as does traditional smoking. A scientific team from Stony Book University and the University of Rochester found that e-cigarette vapors can cause tissue damage and inflammation comparable to that associated with tobacco cigarettes.
In an effort to help reduce the health consequences of e-cigarette use, seven provinces in Canada (British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec) have legislation that ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, prohibits their use in workplaces and public places where traditional smoking is banned, and restricts their promotion and advertising. Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver have adopted measures that restrict use of e-cigarettes in public places.
Since e-cigarettes are relatively new, long-term research on their health impact is lacking. However, the majority of evidence gathered thus far points to health hazards associated with their use, including an increased risk of adopting tobacco smoking. Vaping appears to pose a significant danger to young users, especially those with asthma and those who view the habit as safe. E-cigarette users or whose who are contemplating their use can either choose to forego developing this questionable habit or forge ahead and place their health at potential and considerable risk.
Written by Deborah Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell is passionate about personal health and the well-being of animals and the planet. She has authored, coauthored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, contributes regularly to several websites, and shares information on physical, emotional, and spiritual health on her blog, deborahmitchellbooks.com.
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Sundar IK et al. E-cigarettes and flavorings induce inflammatory and pro-senescence responses in oral epithelial cells and periodontal fibroblasts. Oncotarget 2016 Oct 24 online. Retrieved 2016 Nov. 17.