11 Major Vaping Health Risks and Dangers
Is vaping bad for your health?
Vaping is a relatively new phenomenon that has researchers scrambling to understand its impacts on human health. Even though most scientists agree that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, vendors argue it is a safe alternative. However, the word ‘safe’ may be an exaggeration and an effective marketing tactic. In reality there are several vaping health risks and dangers from inhaling nicotine.
Vaporizers or e-cigarettes heat e-liquids to a vapor-producing temperature. E-liquids are made up of Propylene Glycol and/or Vegetable Glycerin (the base), flavouring (made of chemicals and other additives) and nicotine. They do not contain tobacco and produce vapor rather than smoke.
This article will examine the major health risks and potential dangers of vaping, and will identify why some people are more vulnerable than others.
Vaping, as opposed to smoking cigarettes, is the act of inhaling tobacco-free vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or vaporizer. The device heats the e-liquid to a vapor-producing temperature, rather than into smoke. In most cases, however, the e-liquid still contains nicotine.
When nicotine is inhaled, it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nose, mouth and lungs, ultimately travelling to the brain. It has a stimulating effect that causes the brain to release dopamine, the controller of the pleasure-center of the brain. After the stimulating, pleasurable high, the human body experiences a crash. It is in this moment a desire for more nicotine begins to grow.
Many people use vaping as a means to quit smoking cigarettes because they still ingest the nicotine without some of the other harmful chemicals. However, unless you purchase a nicotine-free e-liquid, vaping still contains nicotine and is highly addictive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, too much nicotine can result in nicotine poisoning, or overstimulation. Overstimulation can result in a feeling of depression, vomiting, seizures, muscle twitching and abnormal heart rhythms, all within 15 minutes of ingestion.
At very high doses, nicotine can be deadly. Depending on age and body mass, 30 to 60mg of nicotine would have to absorb into your body in a very short period of time. This translates into about 20 to 60 cigarettes. The human body absorbs less nicotine when inhaling vapor, so the deadly amount exceeds 20 to 60 cigarettes.
It is unlikely that any individual would consume enough e-liquid to poison themselves to death. However, nicotine poisoning in the form of vomiting and seizures still pose a risk to adolescents and youth.
Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable cancer. Nicotine, present in both cigarettes and e-liquids, is addictive but not cancer-causing. The main risk of cancer for people who vape is exposure to chemicals. Toxic chemical levels, though less than cigarettes, are still high in e-liquids. In particular, certain e-liquid flavours contain harmful chemicals that have been linked to cancer.
Another cause for concern is the fact that most people who vape also smoke cigarettes. In this case, they are still being exposed to tobacco and other cancer-causing chemicals. If an individual only vapes and does not smoke cigarettes, their chance of developing cancer is highly unlikely. The science on this issue is not conclusive because vaping is still relatively new.
Increased blood pressure
Nicotine, present in vape smoke, causes blood pressure to rise temporarily. There is no science to suggest that vaping directly results in high blood pressure over a long period of time. For people with existing health conditions or already-high blood pressure, vaping can be harmful and increase oneâs chance of having a stroke. In a healthy body, blood pressure will likely return to normal and not cause any harm.
Increased heart rate
As discussed above, nicotine is a stimulant that releases dopamine in the brain. Almost immediately, vaping results in an increased heart rate. Like blood pressure, there is no science to suggest that vaping will have a sustained effect on oneâs heart rate. However, studies suggest that a high heart rate can be a danger to people with existing health conditions and even to people who are fit. Individuals with any already-high heart rate of above 100 beats per minute are particularly at risk.
Damage to the fetus
Similar to cigarettes, prenatal vaping can cause serious damage to the fetus because it exposes the developing child to nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals. Studies have found that nicotine exposure, especially prenatal, results in permanent damage to the brain. Long term effects include developmental challenges and an increased risk of developing attention deficit disorder, behavioural issues and learning disabilities.
When the fetus is exposed to nicotine in the womb, their chance of addiction in the future is also increased. Nicotine alters the reward circuitry in the brain, which cannot be reversed. Prenatal nicotine exposure has also been associated with poor memory and apnea in infancy. The chances of early death are also increased when exposed to nicotine.
This scientific study discusses at length the effects of nicotine on the developing brain in both the fetus and the adolescent.
Damage to the developing brain
Vaping, like cigarettes, is harmful to the developing brain of an adolescent. In scientific terms, adolescents are people aged 12-20. According to a 2015 government survey, approximately 25 per cent of teens in America were vaping. The number of teens smoking cigarettes was down to about 10 per cent in the same year. Considering the relatively high rate of adolescent vaping, it is important to identify the risks of vaping on the adolescent brain.
Nicotine has been proven to cause long-term damage when ingested by adolescents. Between the ages of 12 and 20, the brain is in its final developmental stage before adulthood. Nicotine has been shown to reduce anxiety in adolescents, resulting in a dependency on nicotine to cope with stress. Nicotine exposure also has a negative effect on memory in adolescents, resulting in academic challenges.
The rewarding effects of nicotine are enhanced in adolescents, leading to a much higher chance of prolonged addiction. The other major impact of nicotine on an adolescent concerns mood. Adolescents exposed to nicotine have an increased risk of developing future mood disorders, including dependency and poor emotional intelligence.
More controversial, most researchers and regulatory bodies still agree that nicotine is a gateway to other addictive substances. This is certainly debatable but still supported by science.
Pulmonary (lung) health
Direct inhalation of smoke and even second-hand smoke from e-cigarettes can cause serious harm to the lungs. Vape smoke contains ultrafine particles and chemicals that can have a damaging effect on pulmonary health, otherwise known as health of the lungs.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a condition common to cigarette smokers. It develops slowly over a long period of time. The Lung Association claims that 80-90 per cent of COPD cases are caused by smoking. It is usually diagnosed to people over the age of 40 who have damaged lungs, resulting in trouble breathing when completing simple tasks, like walking or climbing stairs.
Certainly, vape smoke does not contain tar or many of the other harmful toxics contained in cigarettes. However, the long-term effects of vape smoke on the lungs is still unknown due to a lack of science. As time passes and more people continue to vape, scientists will be able to make a more concrete connection between vaping and COPD. There is no clear connection at this point, but the risk still exists.
Propylene Glycol (PG) is used in a wide range of cosmetic products, such as lotions, creams, processed foods and medications. It is also used in e-cigarettes to create e-juice. When heated, PG produces the vapor that is inhaled. It is combined with nicotine and flavour to help carry the liquid flavouring and provide a hit to the throat similar to tobacco.
PG is subject to fierce debate because the extent of its toxicity is unknown. The FDA has ruled it is generally safe because healthy people with functioning kidneys and livers break it down within 48 hours of ingestion. However, risks of toxicity increase in individuals with liver problems. This article discusses both PG and VG.
Vegetable Glycerin (VG) is the vegan option for e-juice. It is a natural chemical extracted from vegetable oil used in a wide range of products, including sweeteners, cosmetic products and medical products. In e-liquid, VG is used to create a thick smoke texture.
Both VG and PG can cause severe throat irritation and dry mouth. In addition, people can be allergic to both substances, meaning there is a certain degree of risk in inhalation if you have not been tested for allergies. The risk of being allergic to either substance is quite low.
Further study is required to understand the long-term effects of PG and VG on the lungs and throat.
Popcorn lung is another term for bronchiolitis obliterans, or the scarring of the bronchioles. The condition is another form of lung damage and completely irreversible, except for an entire lung transplant.
When the bronchioles are damaged and cannot function properly, mucus and bacteria can build up inside the lungs. The result is a constant cough, susceptibility to other cardiovascular illnesses and trouble breathing. Other symptoms include fever, sweating at night and weight loss.
Diacetyl, a chemical commonly used to flavour artificial butter for processed popcorn, is also used to flavour several e-liquids. Diacetyl is known to scar the bronchioles if it is inhaled in significant quantities. Popcorn lung made the news when 8 employees of a popcorn factory in Missouri developed popcorn lung in the late 90s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented the case, noting exposure to diacetyl as a likely cause.
It is important to note that the amount of diacetyl needed to cause irreversible damage is quite high, but a lack of quality control and lack of education increases the chances of over-consumption.
Vaping has only risen to prominence within the last decade. As such, the dangers of vaping and the degree of harm are still unknown to researchers. Scientists were only able to fully realize the long-term effects of smoking cigarettes after several decades of studying the health of smokers, monitoring their conditions and drawing conclusions.
The same will have to be done with vaping. E-liquids are complex creations and often contain large amounts of additives and chemicals. The industry is also highly unregulated, meaning many of the ingredients have not been studied in depth but are assumed to be low-risk.
In addition to ultrafine particles, e-cigarette aerosols often contain metals and other impurities. Until researchers study the effects of ingesting these chemicals, we wonât know all the long-term effects vaping has on the body.
There are inherent challenges in studying the effects of vaping. First of all, there are countless varieties of e-cigarettes and vaporizers available on the market. Different brands and models deliver varying amounts of aerosol to the lungs, making it challenging to generalize the impact it can have on your body.
Second, there are countless e-liquid varieties and flavours. This means they vary in chemical composition based on flavour, ingredients and nicotine level. One flavour could be cancer-causing, while another is harmless. The science is not yet able to tell us definitely which are harmful and which are not.
Lastly, every individual vaper is different and will have different patterns and preferences, adding to the complexity of studying the long-term effects. Until there are long-term, comprehensive studies available, the degree of risk cannot be known.
Science has proven that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Most sources recommend that switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes significantly reduces oneâs exposure to toxic chemicals. Some scientists argue e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than e-cigarettes. However, vaping in its own right poses health risks. As such, non-smokers are still better off not vaping than vaping.