Is vaping really safer than cigarettes? While the obvious benefits of no smoke or tar make it seem like a healthy alternative to smoking, that may not be the case. Recent studies link high concentrations of toxic chemicals found within e-cigarettes to lung disease.
In recent years, the popularity of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed — and the growing interest in alternative tobacco and nicotine products appears to be related to an overall decrease in the number of Americans who regularly smoke cigarettes.
According to the CDC, the percentage of cigarette smokers in the U.S. has declined over the past decade, dropping from 20.9% in 2005 to 16.8% at the end of 2014. But even with the decreasing number of smokers, the CDC reports that cigarettes remain the leading cause of preventable disease in the U.S. and they remain the cause of 1 in 5 deaths in America. The shift in nicotine usage from smoking to “vaping” might sound like great news for public health on the surface — but perhaps we shouldn’t celebrate just yet.
Although e-cigarettes have been marketed as a smarter alternative to traditional cigarettes, there has been relatively little research done on the potential health risks that accompany e-cigarettes — and that’s just in the short term. Since e-cigarettes are so new to the market, it’s virtually impossible to gauge the long-term side effects of extended usage.
While e-cigarettes do not typically contain the most hazardous chemicals found in cigarettes like arsenic and formaldehyde, studies show that there are still health concerns. According to research conducted at Harvard, many e-cigarettes still contain chemicals that can cause respiratory disease. The real health hazard, the research suggests, comes from the flavoring chemicals used in nearly all e-cigarettes.
A whopping 75% of flavored e-cigarettes contain diacetyl, a chemical which was first found to cause severe respiratory damage to workers in popcorn factories who inhaled artificial butter flavoring, giving name to the infamous “popcorn lung” condition, bronchiolitis obliterans. Along with diacetyl, two other potentially dangerous compounds, acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione, were found in chemicals used to produce the flavoring.
Part of what makes e-cigarettes so dangerous is their accessibility. Vaping has become more popular among young people than smoking standard cigarettes, and it’s easy to see why: Cancer.net reports that the FDA is not yet able to regulate e-cigarettes at a level comparable to conventional cigarettes. This means that manufacturers can tacitly market their products toward teenagers. In fact, between 2011 and 2013 the number of young adults 12-17 exposed to e-cigarettes ballooned 256%, according to USA Today.
In an alarming move, many of the techniques used to capture the youth market for cigarettes in days past are being repurposed to capture a younger demographic of customers for e-cigarettes. Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, sees a direct lineage: “These are the same images, the same themes, and the same role models that the cigarette industry used 50 years ago,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s the Marlboro Man reborn. It’s the Virginia Slims woman recreated, with the exact same effect… This is not an accident.”
Are There Any Upsides?
Despite the health risks associated with chemicals in e-cigarettes, some statistics suggest using them can help wean users off of conventional cigarettes — which is why many older smokers have turned to vaping.
A recent Cochrane review finds that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit or drastically cut down on cigarette smoking behaviors, and, somewhat shockingly, that e-cigarettes are actually as effective as a means to quit smoking as other popular anti-smoking aids, like nicotine patches. But if people are only switching from one toxic habit to another, we should weary to buy into there being health benefits until there have been more studies on e-cigarette usage.
Top Quality Care, on Your Terms
Given the enduring health concerns for smokers and vapers alike, having access to good health care has never been more important. SingleCare is here to help you take care of yourself, on your terms. It can help when you don’t have insurance or just need to fill in the gaps of your current insurance. Whatever your situation, SingleCare can offer you top quality healthcare options with no gimmicks or hidden fees, so that you can make the choice that’s right for you.
(Main image credit: diego_cervo/Thinkstock)