3-Part Series: Is Vaping Really Bad For Your Health? – Part 2

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There are a number of criticisms of vaping. Many complain about the second hand vapor cloud. Often stating they can taste the flavor of the vapor second-hand. Health professionals say that if a vape user has the flu or a lung infection the viruses, bacteria, or germs will ride along on the micro vapor droplets and anyone nearby will breathe them in. Still, second hand vapor isn't the only health concern. 

Some folks see vaping as a 'gateway' to other types of drug use. The verdict on that is still out. There are not a lot of studies to prove this claim or theory. Yes, there have been a few studies but the small sample size of participants in the research is simply not large enough to be conclusive. Parents of adolescents are convinced that their kids started with vaping and then started smoking pot, then transitioned into other illegal hardcore drugs. 

There have been several serious lung conditions that vaping users have developed. Many of these lung issues have been serious, and there have been vaping deaths. At this point, much more research is needed. The vaping industry maintains that if folks are buying legitimate vaping products this shouldn't happen, suggesting that more rules and regulations be put in place to prevent counterfeit vaping cartridges and non-certified products within them. 

Another issue that critics point out is that vaping products still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Therefore they say; "vaping isn't any better for you than smoking regular cigarettes." After all, nicotine is considered a neurotoxin and it is especially damaging in the adolescent brain. Now then, let's spend a little time discussing each of these very controversial criticisms:

  1. Second Hand Smoke (vapor) Risks
  2. Vaping as a Gateway Drug
  3. Lung Health Issues and Vaping Deaths
  4. Vaping Products Contain Nicotine (Neurotoxin)

1. Second Hand Smoke (Vapor) Risks

First, let's talk about the second hand smoke problem from e-cigarettes or vaping. It turns out that many teens are being constantly exposed to second hand e-cigarettes vapor. One survey shows 1/3 of middle school teens have been exposed to second hand vaping smoke. Many say they are constantly exposed to exhaled vapor. 

So what is in this second hand smoke of those who vape? Well, you'd be surprised what's in the vaping chemicals to start with, and yes there are hazardous chemicals in the solution. We already know there is nicotine, but did you know there are heavy metals, aldehydes, glycerin along with the chemicals making up the flavor part. Now you might think that when someone breathes in the vapor, that most of it will stay in their lungs. Yes, a large percentage does, but 30-40% may not. 

If you've ever been around a group that is vaping, you can identify the flavors they are smoking simply by smelling the second hand smoke. You can also taste it in your own mouth. Think about that for a minute, you can identify the flavor of the vaping solution, so you are getting a lot more than that as a bystander. You see, the concentration of ultrafine particles is quite high in the second hand smoke. 

There have been a number of studies showing that e-cigarette use impairs and suppresses anti-bacterial functions in the lungs and nasal passages. Inhibiting the body's immune system is bad news in this day and age of superbugs and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Allowing such a problem to exit the body in an aerosol vapor or second hand smoke to a new unwittingly available host (person) gives credence to the health professionals' concerns. 

2. Vaping as a Gateway Drug

For adults who vape the numbers and evidence appear to show that it is helping folks quit smoking. Although in a large percentage of cases adults are now doing both types of smoking. That is to say, they are vaping and still partaking in the smoking of regular cigarettes, albeit to a lesser degree. Vaping does appear to be lowering the number of adult smokers, as they migrate to vaping and a decent percentage have stopped smoking or vaping altogether. 

For youth, it's a bit of a different story with mixed data. Currently, youth smoking is at a historical low. Thus, if vaping was a gateway to smoking regular cigarettes we should have already seen that increase due to the rapid growth of e-cigarettes, but we haven't. Indeed, if you ask a young person about smoking - more than likely they will say; "that's gross," unless they are already smokers (cite: 1). 

It also appears that current youth smokers are switching to vaping, and the number of new vaping youth who've never smoked before is increasing, but not rapidly. So, does vaping really increase the number of regular cigarette youth smokers? That is inconclusive, but you wouldn't know it by watching the news or reading the newspapers. 

In fact, only 1.7% of adult vaper users surveyed had never smoked regular cigarettes. It appears that vaping does not lead to the smoking of real cigarettes, the data shows there is no gateway there. Although there isn't sufficient research showing empirical evidence that vaping is a gateway to the smoking of pot, DMT (N-Dimethyltryptamine), crack or using solutions containing psychedelics. 

Since some e-cigarette cartridges are sold with THC or marijuana now, there is a possibility that vaping could be a gateway to smoking marijuana for our youth. Still, marijuana use is on the rise anyway due to the changing of its legal status in many states. That would more than account for the increased usage. 

Because vaping requires a cartridge with a chemical solution, just about any liquefied drug could be vaped. Does this mean that vaping might become a gateway to multidrug use? There just isn't enough data to tell if this is happening yet, and predicting such is not a scientific endeavor and there is no evidence of that, not yet, not now. 

One unfortunate problem is that those who vape will have easier access 'if' they so choose to smoke a solution containing an illicit drug. Worse, users may not know the origin, concentration levels, or exactly what's in it. That could lead to problems and some in law enforcement have suggested; "it's only a matter of time before drug cartels target this industry and start filling up cartridges with who knows what?" We just cannot say how all this will play out in the future, no one really knows.

3. Lung Health Issues and Vaping Deaths

Perhaps you've been noticing the number of TV news stories about vaping deaths due to lung disease and lung infections. The number of vapor related deaths due to lung problems is troubling and somewhat alarming, yet, overall, it is relatively low considering the number of vapers in the US. It is estimated by the start of 2020 there will be an estimated 20 million vaper users in the United States. One-in-three vaping users say they vape on a daily basis

A good number of deaths related to vaping have been with youth vapers, and these cases typically make the news. Perhaps this is good to prevent more youth from taking up the activity. Still, it's important to look into each case to try to find common threads if we are to prevent lung problems and deaths. Is there something in the vaping solutions that is causing this? Is there a genetic component? Currently, there are more questions than answers but researchers are working hard to nail this down. 

Another problematic issue is that folks with cancer, heart disease, asthma, and other breathing disorders were more likely to vape because they feel it is safer than regular cigarettes. The reality is we just don't know if it is safer yet. We all know the risks of smoking regular cigarettes as they've been around for so long. What will we learn in the future with vaping and the potential long-term health risks?

As of September 2019, there have been over 30 vaping related deaths and some 450 cases of severe pulmonary disease (cite: 2). These deaths strongly suggest that 'vaping isn't a harmless activity' and cautions users to proceed at their own risk.

4. Vaping Products Contain Nicotine (Neurotoxin)

Vaping products contain nicotine, and some feature THC and other neurotoxin chemicals, along with the flavor components, and other chemicals to ensure the solution vaporizes properly. None of these chemicals are good for you. Your lungs are designed to breathe in air, not a lot of chemicals and synthetic molecules. 

Some makers of vaping solutions have infused vitamins. In fact, vaping your vitamins is being used as a marketing strategy to entice new more health conscious users (cite: 3). 

There is some speculation by pulmonary doctors and health professionals that this is unwise to put vitamins into vaping solutions without research. They indicate that it may cause more harm than good, as the body doesn't uptake all vitamins in the same way. 

Some have gone so far as to speculate that it is the vitamins in some of these vaping solutions that might be causing some of the adverse pulmonary problems with the vapers who use them. Of course, there are so many other chemicals in the solution it's hard to pin-point.

Not all vaping solutions have the same concentration of nicotine, some have more and some have less. A good many of them have more than regular cigarettes (cite: 4). If all things are equal, and regular cigarettes contained the same amount of nicotine for the same number of puffs, you'd probably get more nicotine from smoking regular cigarettes than e-cigs even though you'd take longer puffs on a vaping device (cite: 5). This is a plus positive for the argument that vaping could help you quit smoking, or it would cause you to vape more to reach the same level of nicotine uptake. 

Remember nicotine is addicting and it is why people continue to feel the need to vape. This need is the nicotine hit. It's an addiction and is far beyond the enjoyment of the flavors tasted while vaping. 

References:

1.) "The Gateway Effect of E-cigarettes: Reflections on Main Criticisms," by Simon Chapman, David Bareham, and Wasim Maziak. Nicotine Tob Res. 2019 May; 21(5): 695–698.

2.) "Outbreak of pulmonary diseases linked to vaping," published in BMJ, September 2019. BMJ 2019; 366 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l5445 (Published 10 September 2019).

3.) "E-cigarettes Are Being Marketed as 'Vitamin Delivery' Devices," by Titiana Bazanez, Anuja Majmundar, Tess Boley Cruz, and Jennifer B. Unger. Published in AJPH - American Journal of Public Health, September 30, 2018.

4.) "Associations of Electronic Cigarette Nicotine Concentration With Subsequent Cigarette Smoking and Vaping Levels in Adolescents," by Nicholas Goldenson, Adam Leventhal, and Matthew Stone, et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(12):1192–1199. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.3209.