The health risks of vaping might surprise you, as many people think of the practice as a healthy alternative to cigarette smoking. In recent years, there has been a huge increase in vaping among multiple demographics.
Although it’s widely believed to be a safe option, the truth is, the health risks of vaping can be just as dangerous as cigarette smoking. Here’s everything you need to know about this new trend.
What Is Vaping, Exactly?
Vaping involves using electronic cigarettes (also referred to as e-cigarettes). These devices contain heating elements, batteries and a reservoir that holds vaping liquid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the liquid usually consists of varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings and chemicals. When users puff e-cigarettes, the heating element is activated and produces an aerosol, or vapor, that users then inhale.
How Common Is Vaping?
Vaping may be more common than you think, especially among teens. The CDC report notes that 3.2 percent of American adults used e-cigarettes in 2016. Additionally, the findings conclude that more than 2 million teens (11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students) used e-cigarettes that same year.
What Is E-Cigarette Vapor Made Of?
Despite the belief that e-cigarette vapor is nicotine-free, many e-cigarette products do contain nicotine—even those marketed as nicotine-free, the CDC explains. Other potentially harmful substances found in e-cigarettes include ultrafine particles, flavorings like diacetyl (a chemical linked to lung disease), volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as lead, tin and nickel.
Because nicotine has been found in nicotine-free vaping products, users never really know what they’re getting. E-cigarettes generally contain fewer toxic chemicals than regular cigarettes, but vaping is far from harmless when it comes to an individual’s health.
Possible Health Risks of Vaping
Some studies show e-cigarettes are harmless, while others do not. Current research is conflicting, and more studies are needed to assess the long-term effects of regular vaping.
A 2014 review published in Preventive Medicine notes that harmful metals and cancer-causing chemicals are present in many e-cigarettes, vaping often causes airway resistance and e-cigarettes cannot be considered safe. Researchers say long-term follow-up studies regarding e-cigarette safety are lacking, so no firm conclusions can be made.
A 2016 review found that of 27 case study reports, 25 show negative effects from exposure to electronic cigarettes—such as respiratory problems, gastrointestinal conditions, heart problems, nicotine poisoning and injury caused by e-cigarette battery explosions. Based on these reports, researchers conclude that smoking e-cigarettes can lead to health problems in healthy adults, and exacerbate pre-existing health conditions.
Interestingly, vaping appears to be just as addictive as cigarette smoking. The U.S. Surgeon General says e-cigarette use in adults and teens is strongly linked to regular cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products, as well as alcohol and marijuana use. The same source warns that e-cigarettes can negatively impact children and teens by altering brain development, mood, behavior, attention and learning.
Vaping can take a toll on oral health as well. The American Academy of Implant Dentistry says vaping is just as bad for your teeth and gums as cigarette smoking—and is linked with gum disease, bad breath, teeth grinding, gum recession and a weakened immune system.
So, Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?
Many studies on the safety of e-cigarettes conclude that vaping appears to be safer than smoking. However, when comparing e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes, it depends on the nicotine levels in the vaping liquids used. Some vapors contain less nicotine than cigarettes, and others may contain much more.
An article published in Environmental Health Perspectives says that although e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals, they appear to be the “lesser of the two evils” when compared to regular cigarette smoking—but additional long-term research is needed to know for sure.
Get the Word Out About Vaping Health Risks
If employees at your company are like many Americans, they may think vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking and might not have heard about the hidden dangers of e-cigarettes. Getting the word out to employees about the health risks of vaping—through workplace wellness programs, company-wide newsletters, signs, posters or email blasts—helps lower disease risks and improve health, wellness and productivity in the workplace.