Not too long-ago electronic cigarette companies told us that their product was the new revolutionary device that would change the lives of smokers and make every young person look cool. They marketed e-cigs as the best alternative to traditional cigarettes with zero side effects.
Most people believed the campaign that vaping using e-cigs was going to be the easiest way to help them quit smoking, but a recent public health scare is revealing a different reality. in 2019, over 1000 cases of pulmonary lung infection linked to the use of vaping products have been reported in the US. While there are many debates about what is causing these events, it is important that you understand the science behind vaping and how it affects you.
This article will give you an in-depth analysis of what vaping is, the research supporting the health scare, and why you should be concerned about using e-cigarettes.
What Does Vaping Mean?
The word “vaping” describes the act of inhaling and exhaling aerosol from an electronic handheld device containing a liquid. People who vape can choose to use a vaporizer or an e-cigarette.
The magic of vaping happens when the liquid mix of chemicals which sometimes contain nicotine, is heated to create a thick white cloud of smoke.
Thanks to influencers and the speed of social media, vaping has become a cultural phenomenon worldwide. The Surgeon General of the United States reported in 2016 that more than 85% of vapers in the country were 25 years old or younger (1). This popularity among young people is partially due to various flavors being made available on the market, such as fruit, chocolate, and candy (2).
Even though the e-cigarettes market is worth over $19 billion (3), one company is said to be responsible for most of the increase in the use of vape products. That company is Juul, a Silicon Valley startup with $12 billion in private valuation (4). One report suggests that the colorful and clever marketing of Juul might have contributed to the 78% rise of vaping among high schoolers (5).
Why does the Government want to Ban E-Cigarettes?
Currently, both the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating newly reported cases of lung injury associated with the use of vaping products. According to the CDC, 33 people have been confirmed dead and over 1000 more cases are being treated (6).
While the investigation is ongoing, health professionals are warning the public especially young people to avoid using any type of vaping products. Some e-cigs brands are blaming the use of cheap black-market varieties as the cause of the outbreak. They claim that for example, in the European Union electronic cigarettes are regulated and that is why there is no report of such cases (7). Still, experts argue that vaping products should be placed under the same restrictions as tobacco.
How Nicotine in E-Cigarettes Affects Vapers
Even though e-cigs are not lighted on fire, the heat used to create the vape cloud is enough to release a similar toxic chemical mixture that is also present in tobacco-related products (8).
We also know that smoking traditional cigarettes increases blood pressure; the findings for vaping is no different. According to one study (9), people who vaped for 30 minutes or more daily experienced stiffness in their arterial blood vessels. This stiffness was caused by the nicotine in vape mist. Nicotine raises blood pressure especially if it is combined with caffeine (10). So, using e-cigs with nicotine can affect your health just like traditional cigarettes do.
To make matters worse, the Journal of Addictive Medicine (11) discovered that some brands of vape mist contain up to 52% higher levels of nicotine than the recommended 18mg/mL. In fact, even vape oils labeled nicotine-free contained levels of nicotine as high as 23.9mg/mL.
Is Nicotine-Free Vape Mist Bad for Your Lungs?
If nicotine is the reason why vaping is addictive and dangerous, then it should be okay for vapers to enjoy their nicotine-free e-cigs, right? Unfortunately, the answer is No.
A recent study by Muthumalage and colleagues (12) found that nicotine-free vape juice still released tiny chemical particles that can damage the functioning of the lungs.
Although, some chemicals in e-cigs like propylene glycol are deemed harmless, the combination with other chemicals especially the flavoring agents that many vapers love, creates a toxic solution. The data is not clear on how this new chemical mixture affects the respiratory system.
However, one study published by Journal Frontiers of Physiology found that vaping particles causes irritation and inflammation in the lungs (13). For this reason, vapers have been advised to avoid electronic cigarette products until more conclusive research emerges.
Can You Develop Popcorn Lungs From Vaping?
Popcorn lung is known medically as bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare chronic condition that affects people with advanced respiratory damage. It was first discovered in popcorn factory workers exposed to a toxic chemical called diacetyl. This chemical is used by factories as a replacement for butter in popcorn production.
According to a study published by Scientific Reports (14), inhaling diacetyl is dangerous as it causes inflammation in the lungs which leads to thickened and narrow airways; thereby increasing vapers’ risk of developing popcorn lungs. While diacetyl is banned in the European Union (15), the American Lungs Association (16) says some brands of e-cigarettes contain this toxic chemical.
Another study by Allen and partners analyzed 51 brands of vape mists and found that 39 of them contained diacetyl (17). The most shocking finding of this study was that some brands of vape juice tested had levels of diacetyl that is way beyond the safe limit.
Studies like these are the reason why the United States Surgeon General issued a warning against using e-Cigarettes as popcorn lung is not curable. In severe cases, popcorn lung can lead to breathlessness, coughing, and even death.
Other Ways Vaping Affects Your Respiratory Health
Popcorn lung disease is not the only respiratory risk associated with vaping.
According to a study from Harvard T.Chan School Of Public Health, vaping can cause lasting long-term damage to the lungs and its surrounding tissues (18).
Researchers Rowell and Tarran have also reported that using electronic cigarettes can cause asthma-like symptoms and reduce respiratory functioning. They concluded that the health effects of e-cigs are the same as smoking (19).
Higher Risks of Stroke, Heart Attack, And Other Cardiovascular Diseases Linked with Vaping
Aside from the harmful effects of e-cigs on the functioning of the lungs, vaping can affect your cardiac health.
Dr. Paul Ndunda who is an assistant professor at Kansas School of Medicine led a cross-sectional study to investigate how e-cigarettes affect the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). They included 343,856 people who never used e-cigarettes and 66,795 regular vapers; making it the largest study of CVD risks and vaping to date.
The team found that compared to the other group, people who vaped had a 40% increase in their risk of heart-related conditions. Their findings also showed that the vapers increased their risk of stroke by 71% and heart attack by 59% (20).
Other researchers from the University Of West Virginia (21) studied 250 vapers in a lab trial and found acrolein in the vape juice. They concluded that regular users of e-cigs are at risk of thickening their arteries. Inhaling acrolein can also damage the blood vessels which affects blood circulation and increases the risk of atherosclerosis (22).
Finally, one paper published in the PLOS Journal shows that vapers are more likely to suffer from blood clots and reduced functioning of the arteries of the leg (23). The many evidence above makes vaping a strong negative risk factor for your cardiovascular health.
Other Possible Health Consequences of Vaping Includes:
Cancer-Linked Genetic Mutations:
For many smokers, the scare of cancer is the reason they want to quit but vaping might not be the solution they seek. A detailed 2019 study (24) explained that vape juice contains known carcinogenic compounds like glycol, glycerin, and artificial flavorings. The study pointed out that these carcinogenic chemicals present in e-cigs are also found in traditional cigarettes but with a lesser dose. Nevertheless, the levels of these carcinogenic chemicals in e-cigs remains high enough to cause cancer. This dangerous effect (25) of vaping is confirmed by the National Cancer Institute’s report that inhaling vape mist increases one’s risk of cancer.
One other study warns that young people who use e-cigs are exposing themselves to carcinogenic enzymes. Teenage vapers are at risk of cancer-linked genetic mutations as chemicals found in e-cigs increase the formation of free-radicals in the body (26).
Poisoning of DNA Cells:
Regular users of electronic cigarettes may be unknowingly damaging the DNA cells in their mouths.
One introductory study by scientists associated with the American Chemical Society identified formaldehyde, acrolein, and methylglyoxal in the saliva of vapers (27). These compounds are known to cause mutations in DNA cells.
Affects Brain Functioning:
Texas Tech University Researcher Kaisar and others (28) explains that the chemical found in e-cigs juice can cause brain damage for chronic vapers. This is because vaping leads to the obstruction of blood flow in the brain. Suggesting that vapers are at risk of stroke and are less likely to recover from a brain surgery.
Can Vaping Make You an Addict?
When e-cigs came to the market in 2004, it was advertised as a healthy alternative for people who wanted to quit smoking. Even though vaping may not be an addictive habit, data shows that the majority of vape juice sold contained nicotine.
Dr. Blaha at John Hopkins Medicine argues that nicotine addiction is the reason why the use of e-cigarette is a health concern (29). He says some e-cigs brands are deceiving the public as data shows vaping produces more nicotine than smoking cigarettes.
These findings are shocking for smokers who thought e-cigarette was the miracle solution to help them stop smoking. The harsh reality is that smokers who switch to vaping are exchanging one addictive habit for another (30). What’s worse, vapers could end up using both e-cigs and traditional cigarettes in order to satisfy their daily need for nicotine high.