E-cigarettes and vaping have been in the news recently with concerns about their safety and health risks. While nicotine is often an ingredient in these products, there may be other substances too.
Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes were designed to be an alternative to smoking and are actually promoted as a way to quit smoking.
It is the nicotine in cigarettes that creates the addiction and cravings, but it is the inhaled ingredients in the tobacco smoke that cause the cancer, increased cardiovascular risks and lung disease, along with numerous other poor health outcomes.
That was the justification for e-cigarettes. You would avoid the harmful smoke, while not suffering from nicotine withdrawal.
The use of e-cigarettes is also known as vaping because you inhale vapourized substances. It has expanded from just inhaled nicotine to flavoured nicotine containing oils, tetrahydrocannibol or THC oils, and even oils containing other substances.
One in seven high school students in Canada report using an e-cigarette within the last month, and the numbers seem sure to increase due both to product advertising and peer pressure, i.e. the same factors that helped hook generations of students on tobacco cigarettes.
With the steep increase in the use of e-cigarettes, lung damage has started to be noticed. The condition is known as e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury or EVALI. The symptoms include cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills and weight loss. It’s quite a list, but even so, many teenagers and even adults may attribute these effects to other reasons, or even ignore them.
In the worst case scenario, death occurs, and in the United States, all states except Alaska have reported at least one death that can be attributed to EVALI.
The exact way in which e-cigarettes causes EVALI is not really understood, but it is thought to be a combination of contaminates in the inhaled oils and the heat used to vapourize the oils.
Most cases of damage also seem to involve THC, which may be another contributing factor itself. In tracking the source of the products that have been involved in the damage reports, the majority were obtained from street or informal sources. However, contaminates in e-cigarettes, regardless of the source, can include propylene glycol, formaldehyde and lead.
Besides EVALI, e-cigarettes have also been associated with lipoid pneumonia, that is pneumonia resulting from aspirated oils. Another concern is bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn lung,” named because workers in popcorn factories inhaled small particles of contaminates in popcorn toppings and damaged their smallest airways or bronchioles.
Ideally, you want to avoid these adverse lung conditions, so it makes sense to not start using these products.
Interestingly, the nicotine content in one “pod” or dose of some e-cigarettes is more than a whole pack of cigarettes!
If you want to quit smoking, nicotine replacement patches, inhalers and chewing pieces may be safer options.