When vapes first came on to the market in 2007, many consumers embraced them as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. Unfortunately, in just over 12 years, studies are increasingly suggesting that vaping comes with serious health risks of its own.
In fact, federal health agencies are so alarmed that in 2019, both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned against the use of vapes and the American Cancer Society says that the safest option is to avoid vaping and smoking altogether.
On the surface, vaping can seem pretty innocuous. Vaping liquid comes in fun flavors like watermelon and gummi bear, and there is no lingering stale smell as there is with cigarettes. Vapes were originally marketed as a method of helping people to quit smoking. They can help. However, studies have also suggested that people, especially young people, are more likely to pick up the smoking habit if they start with vaping.
The popularity of vaping among young people, fostered by marketing efforts that directly targeted youth, have led to sales and marketing restrictions and bans. However, vapes can still be legally marketed and sold to adults everywhere.
What is a Vape?
Vape is short for vaporizer, and it is also known as an e-cigarette, vape pen or e-hookah. They come in a variety of forms including some that look like traditional cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Others resemble pens or even USB memory sticks. They work by heating and aerosolizing a solution or juice that is then inhaled and can be used for nicotine-based solutions or used to smoke cannabis.
Since vaping is relatively new, there are no studies that have looked at its long-term effects on the body. However, both anecdotal evidence and studies of shorter-term effects have raised some significant concerns.
Effects on the Lungs
The most severe effects of vaping on our lungs are likely to appear after long-term use and may not be known for another 20 to 30 years. However, recent studies suggest that are already adverse effects on the lungs over the short term. More research is needed, but researchers have recorded both reduced lung function and other adverse effects on the respiratory system, including inflammation, with the use of vapes. Inflammation, in particular, can cause wheezing and other respiratory issues.
Vaping is also linked to lipoid pneumonia, a lung infection caused by lipids or fats in the lungs and chemical pneumonia which is caused by the inhalation of chemicals. In general, the chance of developing pneumonia increases as vaping can paralyze cilia, which remove debris from our lungs and prevent infections.
This severe and incurable illness got its name from the buttery flavored chemical called diacetyl that was once added to microwaveable popcorn and made many workers ill. People are now being exposed to diacetyl via vaping and developing the illness as a result. It mimics asthma and bronchitis and sufferers have chronic shortness of breath and a dry cough.
Effects on the Heart
Researchers have concluded that vaping is less harmful to the heart than smoking, but that does not mean it is harmless. It increases the chance of suffering a stroke, heart attack and angina, particularly among people who already suffer from a heart condition. Additionally, the nicotine found in most vaping products raises your blood pressure and heart rate, increasing the likelihood of a heart attack.
Vaping can also damage endothelial cells. These cells line our blood vessels and control relaxation and contraction of the vessels as well as blood clotting.
Other Harmful Physical Effects
There are several other health issues related to vaping. Vapes can increase the number of bacteria in our mouths, leading to cavities and other oral infections and can also irritate the gums, mouth and throat. There is also some evidence that vaping can damage oral cells and tissues.
The FDA recently released guidelines about the safe use of vapes following reports of the devices exploding in the mouths of users and causing significant burns and other injuries. There have also been links made between the use of vapes and seizures, particularly with younger users.
Toxic Chemicals and Carcinogens
Vaping devices themselves are harmful but so are many of the chemicals used in vape solutions. Nicotine, a key ingredient in vapes, is itself is a highly addictive and dangerous chemical, whether it is smoked or vaped. Many vapes even deliver more nicotine to the average user than cigarettes do.
Scientists have also begun isolating these chemicals and what they have found is disturbing. For example, formaldehyde, an industrial-strength fungicide and chemical commonly used in embalming, had been found in many vaping solutions.
Some of the ingredients used to flavor vaping solutions, such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, are safe to eat but not necessarily safe to inhale. In fact, many can turn into potentially dangerous chemicals when heated in a vape. Some of these chemicals are also known carcinogens.
One of the misleading things about vaping is that otherwise harmless products that are fine to eat or drink may become toxic when inhaled. This is the case with Vitamin E acetate. It is safe when applied topically or ingested, but inhalation can make it deadly. Used as a thickening agent in THC-related vape products, it can remain in the lungs for long periods, and the CDC has identified it as a toxin of concern.
It will be some time before the effects of vaping are entirely known, but much of the current evidence suggests there are currently no real benefits to it. Even the use of vaping in order to aid cessation of smoking is questionable, as the CDC points out there are much better products available to help stop smoking.