What is vaping?
Vaping is the act of breathing in flavored vapor through a commercial device (shown below). The flavored vapor is created by heating up a liquid that contains various concentrations of nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and natural or artificial flavoring. Some popular flavors are raspberry, cotton candy, vanilla, and caramel cheesecake.
The vaping liquids are sold in cartridges and are labeled according to their nicotine concentrations:
• none (0mg)
• ultra-light (6mg)
• medium (12mg)
• regular (18mg)
• strong (24mg)
• very strong (36mg)
According to people who “vape”, the more concentrated the nicotine, the stronger the “throat hit” or “kick”. It is important to know that vaping is different than smoking electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) such as Blu and Vuze because e-cigs contain tobacco, while vaping products are tobacco-free. E-cigs were designed to help smokers quit by tapering down the nicotine from traditional cigarettes. Whether e-cigs are safer than cigarettes is a question that needs to be further evaluated.
How did vaping get started?
Vaping started back in the 1960s by a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik, whose father was a cigarette smoker who died from lung cancer. Vaping slowly became more and more popular in the U.S. in the late 2000s and is now a common trend in high schools, colleges, and graduate schools.
What are the health effects of vaping?
Researchers have discovered that vaping with cartridges containing any concentration of nicotine can worsen heart disease, cause low birth weight pregnancies, worsen lung function, and lead to brain abnormalities like the loss of IQ points. Another concern is that many of the chemicals used for flavorings have not yet been studied for long-term health effects. Of the chemicals that have been evaluated, cinnamonaldehyde (cinnamon flavor) has been found to suppress the immune system, and diacetyl (caramel flavor) can damage the lungs. Even nicotine-free vapor has been shown to cause DNA mutations.
So is vaping safer than traditional cigarettes?
Overall, because the long-term health effects of nicotine are harmful, adults and children should AVOID both cigarettes and vaping. Even the nicotine-free vaping liquid can contain harmful chemicals and therefore should be avoided. Although vaping does have advantages over traditional cigarettes (lower risk of cancer, no bad breath or odor, less cost), the benefits have not been shown to outweigh the potential risks from inhaling hundreds of foreign chemicals that have not been adequately studied to prove they are safe.
November 2016. This post was authored by Alex Yeung, University of Illinois at Chicago medical student and Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health – Region 5 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).