You see them all over, kids at the mall to business people hanging around outside business buildings to hipsters in coffee houses, people inhaling vapor thru units that can be very complicated looking to simple pen like apparatuses. Just what is a vape mod…as the kids call them these days? An electronic cigarette or e-cigarette is a handheld electronic device that tries to create the feeling of tobacco smoking. It works by heating a liquid to generate an aerosol, commonly called a "vapor", that the user inhales.
Just a few short years ago, e-cigarette shops didn’t even exist, and now they fill the strip malls of towns all over America even here in Utah, with names like Draper Vapor, VIP Vapors, The Vapor Pit or others playing on “vape,” the name given to the practice of inhaling the nicotine-laced fog.
Where you find smokers, you’ll find demand for e-cigarettes or “vaping” products, and Utah is not an exception. E-cigarettes first emerged online in the mid-2000s, and the business has since grown to become $6 billion industry worldwide, eclipsing the total sales for all nicotine replacement therapy products. Today, it’s estimated that the industry is growing at an estimated rate of 42% per year, in part due to spending by big tobacco companies as they buff up their versions of e-cigs.
There are now hundreds of different devices and thousands of different flavors for those devices. But the hazy, lazy days at the vape shop may be numbered. This may, the FDA ruled that e-cigarettes products would be subject to the same regulation applied to cigarettes. In addition to prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18, this means that manufacturers and retailers of vapor “juices” will have to register ingredients with the FDA, a process that could be onerous and expensive for small operators. After August 8, vapor retailers will have three years to comply with the rules by registering and labeling their product ingredients.
The reason for the confusion among health researchers and retailers is that an e-cigarette is not just one single device or chemical, making it hard to track and regulate. E-cigarettes can work in a couple of different ways. The most common are pen-shaped rechargeable devices that have a refillable tank that holds a nicotine-laced liquid flavor compound. The liquid is then vaporized but not burned by a heating element to produce an aerosol that delivers nicotine to the user.
Many people assume that e-cigarettes are less toxic than standard cigarettes, but there is little data to back that up.
But if someone is trying to switch to e-cigarettes from cigarettes, are they ultimately doing themselves a favor? “The short answer, is no,” says Dr. Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Glantz analyzed a number of different studies that examined the use of e-cigarettes in quitting smoking. He found that use of e-cigarettes in fact lowered a person’s chance of successfully quitting cigarettes by 28%. This aligns with another recent study that found the most successful way to quit smoking is to go cold turkey instead of slowly weaning off cigarettes.
“The evidence is quite consistent that, for most people, they make it harder to quit,” Glantz says. “That doesn’t mean that some people don’t use some to quit. They do, but that’s a small fraction.”
Not everyone has come to the same conclusion, though. Muhannad Malas, a researcher at the University of Toronto, says that the lack of long-term randomized placebo-controlled studies has been problematic. In lieu of those, reviews of observational studies, like Glantz’s, are the next best thing. Malas’s own review of more 60 studies comparing e-cigs with smoking cessation aids found that they may be helpful for some smokers in quitting or reducing their cigarette smoking but, “the evidence was definitely inconclusive.”
The more scientists learn about e-cigarettes and their impact on human health, the more complicated the picture becomes. For one, no one knows exactly how toxic these products are because the use varies from person to person. And, contrary to what marketing materials may say, e-cigarettes produce a lot more than just “harmless” water vapor.
We all know a cigarette is dried tobacco rolled in paper with a filter which may be made from cellulose acetate fibre, paper or activated charcoal Macroporous phenol-formaldehyde resins and asbestos. Sounds like pretty healthy stuff to draw your breath thru doesn’t it! NOT.
Now E-cigarette juice contains a mix of propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, and flavoring agents approved by the FDA as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) for consumption. When this mix is heated, a group of compounds known as carbonyls are produced. This includes compounds such formaldehyde and acrolein. While cigarettes generally produce a thousand times more carbonyls because of the combustion process, e-cigarettes produce a varying amount depending on the ratio of glycol to glycerin in the vaping fluid and how much of it is heated.
No matter who manufactures or sells e-cigarettes, the end result is the same. “You’re inhaling hot aerosol ultra-fine particles, aldehyde and nicotine,” Glantz says, “and that’s not so good.” So again sounds like not good stuff to be inhaling into your lungs.
So while vaping is considered to be somewhat healthier than smoking regular cigarettes because you’re not coating your lungs in carcinogenic tar—it’s still not a “healthy” practice by any means. As the Surgeon General explains, the aerosol you breathe in when you use an e-cigarette contains harmful chemicals and ultrafine particles you can inhale deep into your lungs. Diacetyle, benzene, nickel, tin, and lead are just some of the things found in e-cigarette vapors. And scientists are still trying to determine the health effects of other potentially harmful chemicals in e-cigarette fluid, as well as how they react when turned into aerosol via intense heat. Plus, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is still highly addictive no matter how you intake it.
Now, if you want to use an e-cigarette, that’s completely up to you. It’s your health and you can use or abuse it however you like. What’s problematic is e-cigarette and vape users don’t seem to realize those vapors are still breathable after they’re exhaled. Much like secondhand smoke, secondhand vapors are a concern for everyone around a user, even if it the vapor is less visible than traditional cigarette smoke. A recent report conducted by the CDC suggests one-third of adults who use e-cigarettes don’t think secondhand vapors are harmful, and another 40% said exposure only caused “little” or “some” harm to children. But make no mistake, just because it’s not a real cigarette, there’s still real danger.
In addition to the harmful chemicals already mentioned, the risks for kids exposed to these secondhand aerosol vapors include accidental nicotine addiction, mood disorders, and a lowering of impulse control. Nicotine can also affect brain development in young people by changing the way the synapses in their brains are formed. Dr. Brian King, the deputy director for research translation at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, says lack of regulation, the “newness” of the products, and the way the industry promotes e-cigarettes as “healthier alternatives” contributes to the confusion. But don’t fall for it; e-cigarettes and vapes aren’t that different than regular old cigarettes, so take precautions when you use them.
I am sure that “vaping” is just as harmful to my health either directly or indirectly via second hand vapor and choose to “Just say NO!”. How do you protect yourself from vape especially if you live in an apartment or have shared HVAC? VentMask air filters protect you room by room removing those types of particulate found in vape vapor.
Coming next week in our second installment about vaping. Can I have an allergic reaction to the vapor or to the “vape juice” used for vaping?