If you’re trying to quit or cut down on smoking regular cigarettes and tempted to turn to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) instead, you might want to reconsider. Though electronic cigarettes seem to be everywhere these days, they may not be the best smoking cessation tool.
The use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, is being marketed as the safe new alternative to conventional cigarettes, yet a recent study found that e-cigarettes, or vapes, may be more dangerous for hearts, lungs and brains. Plus, most people who intended to use e-cigarettes as a relatively risk-free way to kick the nicotine habit ended up continuing to smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that were initially shaped like cigarettes, but now include other models. They heat a liquid that typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine, and flavourings to create a vapour that you inhale. The e-cigarette vapour may not result in the obvious smell and visible smoke of traditional cigarettes. But it has a negative impact on air quality, especially when vaping indoors.
Because they are smokeless, many people may incorrectly assume that e-cigarettes are safer for non-smokers and the environment than traditional cigarettes. However, a study published in the US International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health has found that the use of e-cigarettes results in increased concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and airborne particles, both of which are potentially harmful when inhaled.
The vaping trend has attracted a large number of Egyptian smokers, particularly young people, as a healthier and cheaper alternative to smoking despite the government’s ban on the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes because of the lack of sufficient clinical studies that prove their safety. Smoking has been known for decades to be a cause of lung cancer, breast cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other serious diseases. In contrast, vaping could cause seizures and serious lung damage after just a year, possibly less, according to US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
The growing use of e-cigarettes has thus provoked vigorous debate among public-health specialists worldwide. This debate has now strengthened, with six people dead and more than 450 suffering from serious pulmonary diseases across the US, apparently as a result of smoking e-cigarettes. The American Medical Association has advised people to avoid using e-cigarette products altogether. Even the Trump administration has said it intends to ban non-tobacco flavoured vaping fluid.
Here are some of the pros and cons of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices to help you make informed decisions:
- They seem to be a safer alternative for long-term cigarette smokers who have been unable to quit smoking using recommended and approved aids
- They don’t contain tobacco or as many of the other toxins and carcinogens that are the leading causes of lung disease and cancer.
- They seem to be less risky to smokers who have mild to moderate cases of asthma.
- They may emit less toxic material in their aerosol.
- They can lead to cancerous tumour development and preterm deliveries and stillbirths in pregnant women.
- They could have harmful effects on brain and lung development, when use occurs during fetal development or adolescence.
- They contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug that can lead to or maintain the use of other nicotine products, including cigarettes, as well as increase the risk of alcohol use and addiction. Nicotine has been linked to damage to the nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
- Their aerosol includes additives, heavy metals, ultrafine particles, and other toxic and carcinogenic ingredients that pose second and third-hand health risks.
- They include liquids that have led to unintentional poisoning in children.
- They frequently are used alongside conventional cigarettes, rather than in place of them, increasing the total exposure to nicotine and the risk of other substance use and addiction.
- They are relatively new products with limited long-term data on their health and safety effects and insufficient standards regulating their ingredients and design.
- They increase the risk of burns and other accidents, including explosions from faulty or misused electric chargers.
- E-cigarettes and other vaping devices are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a smoking cessation aid.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.