Are e-cigarettes better than conventional ones? Here’s what you need to know about vaping
Thinking of quitting cigarettes? That’s a great start. Kicking the smoking habit is good news for your health. Smoking can cause various kinds of cancers and heart ailments and damage several organs including the brain and lungs, often leading to premature death.
According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills more than 7 million people every year, including about 900,000 non-smokers who are exposed to passive smoke.
In recent years, smoking e-cigarettes or vaping has been touted as a good way to make a transition from ‘normal’ cigarettes to non-smoking. But is vaping really a good idea? Let’s do a reality check:
Vaping is less harmful
E-cigarettes work by heating chemicals such as nicotine and flavorings to create a water vapor which is then inhaled by the smoker. The data is still incomplete on how many chemicals in e-cigarettes are toxic but it is generally agreed that vaping exposes you to lesser amounts of toxic chemicals as compared to regular cigarettes.
But it’s still bad for your health
What’s that one thing common between traditional cigarettes and many e-cigarettes? Answer: Nicotine, a toxic substance. A highly addictive substance, nicotine causes habitual users to crave the chemical and makes people dependent on tobacco. It also raises the blood pressure and adrenaline, and the possibility of a heart attack. Since there is limited information available about the type of chemicals present in the vapour of e-cigarettes, it’s best to be cautious.
It’s not clear if e-cigarettes help quit smoking
According to a recent study, people who use e-cigarettes to get rid of their nicotine habit, end up smoking both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes. However, experts believe that more such studies are needed before any definite conclusions can be drawn.
San Antonio’s ‘Tobacco 21’ ordinance goes into effect amid e-cigarette crackdown
When Claire Collingwood goes to work this week, she will be in something of a quandary.
The 19-year-old, who works at the smoke shop chain Hazel Sky Smoke and Vape, will still be able to sell electronic cigarettes and vaping products to the customers who come through the door. But she will not be allowed to buy them herself — at least not within San Antonio’s city limits.
“Obviously I’m not going to do anything illegal,” said Collingwood, who has smoked and vaped for years. “I’m going to figure it out.”
Collingwood is among a subset of young adults affected by the city’s new “Tobacco 21” ordinance, which goes into effect Monday. The law, which raises to 21 the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, was approved by the City Council in January as part of a push to protect young people from the highly addictive products.
San Antonio is the first city in Texas to enact such restrictions on tobacco sales; federal and state law forbids the sale to or use of tobacco products by those under 18.
The ordinance comes on the heels of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration crackdown on e-cigarette companies over what the agency called an “epidemic” of vaping among teenagers. The FDA on Sept. 12 gave the industry a 60-day deadline to demonstrate how it will keep its products out of the hands of minors and has gone so far as to threaten to ban or limit advertising and access to flavored e-cigarettes, which have proved particularly attractive to teens. Colleen Bridger, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, called the combination of FDA action and the city ordinance a “happy coincidence” and “a wonderful double-team between local government and federal government.” The goal is to reduce the number of young people who smoke, she said, adding that 95 percent of them start before age 21.
“When you have a chemical that changes the structure of the brain, and you introduce it into a brain that’s still developing, you get a double whammy. You have a brain that’s much more pliant and much more amenable to changes,” Bridger said. “It makes it much more addictive when you start when you’re young, makes it much harder to quit and it makes it much more likely that the brain will become addicted to other substances.”
For years, smoking rates have been on the decline in the United States, driven down in large part by public health campaigns. In 2016, the smoking rate dropped to 15.5 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, down from 37 percent in 1970. Still, smoking accounts for 480,000 deaths a year.
E-cigarette use has been climbing rapidly in recent years as vaping has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. It has proved especially popular among teens — more than 2 million middle and high school students consistently used e-cigarettes in 2017, the FDA commissioner said last month. Because some vaping devices can resemble flash drives and do not produce a lingering scent, they can be easy for students to conceal. During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, North East Independent School District counted 514 incidents on middle and high school campuses in which students were caught with e-cigarettes.
Nicotine use among teens and young adults had been declining until two or three years ago, said Dr. Tamara Simpson, a pulmonary and critical care specialist for UT Health San Antonio
“Now with this emergence of vaping and e-cigarette use, nicotine use among teens and young adults has just skyrocketed,” she said. “That’s the main concern, is that now this age group that was not using nicotine so rampantly is now using nicotine and becoming addicted to nicotine much more commonly.”
Simpson, who treats patients with smoking-related lung diseases, said experts generally agree that vaping is safer for the lungs “because it’s not a combustible product.” The concern is that many young people “have no idea” that they may be putting their health at risk, she said.
Health risks unknown
Despite the perception that vaping is healthier than smoking, health experts say much is unknown about the long-term effects of e-cigarette use, compared with the wealth of research available on traditional cigarettes.
Timothy Grigsby, an assistant professor of community health for the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the relative newness of e-cigarettes means research is lacking on how they might affect users in the long term.
It’s also unclear how young people might be affected by the high concentrations of nicotine that can be delivered by e-cigarettes. For example, one pod of the popular brand Juul, which dominates the vaping market, delivers as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes over the course of about 200 “puffs.”
“We don’t know enough about what’s in all of these e-cigs when we burn them and inhale them into our bodies,” Grigsby said.
It also remains to be seen whether e-cigarettes can be effective substitutes or aids for people trying to kick their smoking habit. Simpson said she does see a role for them as a potential cessation tool for individuals addicted to nicotine but that she has seen mixed results with her patients.