Touted as a safe replacement for cigarettes, vaping has taken off in recent years, especially with millenials.
The attractive combination of a “clean” form of smoking, modern technology, and a bit of a taboo, have turned e-cigarettes into a multi-million dollar craze in just under a decade.
A few years ago most people would have looked at you funny if you mentioned “electronic cigarettes,” but the times have changed. Vape cafes and shops are literally everywhere you look, and it seems like they can’t stay out of the news cycle for more than a few months at a time.
This is for good reason. Despite their popularity, the long-term effects of vaping is still up in the air. The initial research, however, is painting somewhat of a grim picture.
Recent Deaths and Political Drama Around E-Cigarettes
As of today, there have been six recorded deaths related to vaping. Though the circumstances surrounding these deaths may have more to do with illegal THC cartridges than vaping itself, the fact remains that vaping related illness is on the rise, according to the CDC.
So much fear has been stirred up about vaping, that it prompted a response from Washington.
However misguided, Trump has insisted on a ban of certain flavored cartridges, and the vaping industry is trying to play catch up.
This of course has sparked outrage from numerous groups, because the evidence shows that smoking regular cigarettes is proven to be far worse for you than vaping, even after the recent uptick in vaping-related illnesses.
People are saying that this is mostly a reactionary response to play on the sentiments of certain conservatives, who associate vaping with hard drugs like marijuana.
Whatever the motive is, it has caused quite a stir in the media, bringing vaping and e-cigarettes into the mainstream.
There is still a ton of misinformation and hysteria though. Just what is an electronic cigarette anyway, and why is it bad for you?
What is Vaping?
According to the Center On Addiction, vaping is the act of inhaling or exhaling the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette, commonly referred to as a “vape.”
Here’s what they have to say about it:
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. The term is used because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol, often mistaken for water vapor, that actually consists of fine particles. Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.
Vaping has grown in popularity with the rise of e-cigarettes, which were introduced to the mass market in the U.S. in 2007. Vaping devices include not just e-cigarettes, but also vape pens and advanced personal vaporizers (also known as ‘MODS’). E-cigarettes, which resemble smoked cigarettes, and vape pens, which resemble large fountain pens, are typically simpler in design and less expensive than devices that have been customized by the user.
Generally a vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge for containing the e-liquid or e-juice, and a heating component for the device that is powered by a battery. When the device is used, the battery heats up the heating component, which turns the contents of the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled.
Obviously, e-juice contains any number of chemicals, both harmless and dangerous. The four main ingredients in most mainstream e-juice are nicotine, propylene glycol (for the smoke or fog effect), glycerin (for sweetness), and artificial flavorings.
We already know the dangers of nicotine, though stripped of other typical ingredients found in cigarettes, it could be worse.
The real problem begins when you start looking into the artificial flavorings in e-juice. These flavorings can derive from actual fruits, but more often than not they are synthesized in a lab and have a wide range of ill effects on the body.
The fact that there are so many different flavors on the market, from varying and competing brands, makes tracking down the most harmful ones difficult at best.
When you add in the fact that these artificial chemicals are being inhaled as an aerosol, you can start to see why people are concerned. The fact is, many of these chemicals have not been vetted nearly enough, and what little research has been done on them has not turned up anything good.
How Vaping Appeals to Kids
Many people use vaping as a way to get off cigarettes. In this way, they do a lot of good.
One of the scariest drawbacks of vaping however, is that this same crowd trying to escape the grip of cigarettes and rely instead on vaping, tend to be younger people, college and high school students mostly.
The previously discussed flavorings are one of the ways in which younger people get hooked. Not only on the idea of vaping as something cool to do, but that it’s actually tasty too.
For most people that vape, it’s both a social activity and a way to unwind. Because the nicotine makes vaping somewhat addicting, the user is already in a cycle of addiction from the moment they start regularly using it.
The last stroke of marketing to keep people hooked are the different flavors.
Sick of menthol cigarettes? Vaping has cherry, coconut, mango, and 7000 other varieties to choose from. If you get bored with one flavor and start to lose that itch to vape, there’s always a new flavor to try.
These fun, fruity flavors do indeed appeal to younger people, and it’s dangerous.
Much like cigarettes used to before their dangers were exposed, e-cigarette advertising seems to almost prey on younger minds. It’s all flashy graphic design, “cool kid” imagery, and this unnecessary aura of mystery.
For a teenager looking for something to do and looking for a way to relax, this is the perfect storm.
Regulating the vaping industry while still being fair to the consumers and companies is a minefield that the government is going to have to tackle if it wants to push forward with its intentions on banning certain flavors and types of vaping.
Vaping Poses Environmental Risks
Another problem that e-cigarette companies must overcome is the very real environmental risks involved with vaping.
For example, some brands of vape pens involve the use of a lithium-ion battery, and other metallic parts that aren’t that far removed from your average mobile device. Much of the technology of course is the same, because of the USB charging nature of the devices.
Well, most people are aware enough not to just toss a cell-phone in a river or storm drain, because they contain toxic metals and other sensitive materials. Not so much with vape pens, which aren’t that expensive and can easily be discarded for a new model.
Many people own more than one vape pen or e-cigarettes at a time. Each of them function differently and are used for different effects.
Discarded vaping devices are becoming an environmental problem, as they end up in bodies of water, landfills, and other places where their plastics and chemicals start breaking down and leeching into the water and soil.
This is a very real, very serious environmental hazard to consider. To add to the issue, no current regulation exists to monitor, control, or dispose of e-cigarette waste.
Most people just throw them in their regular garbage, yet they do present a toxic hazard to the environment and should not be considered normal trash.
There’s also the aerosol issue to think about.
E-cigarettes release metal particulates into the air, along with nano-particles of chemicals known to harm both humans and the environment.
Initial findings on the composition of vape aerosol makes it clear that it is not healthy to be breathed in.
Depending on the type of e-juice used, vape aerosol can be even more dangerous than second-hand cigarette smoke. This is due to the high concentration of artificial substances.
A Growing But Flawed Industry
There can be no question that vaping poses a serious public health problem. But then again, so do cigarettes, and they’re still everywhere.
Likewise, vaping can’t be easily dismissed by hysteric calls to outright ban it, otherwise we’re discounting the fact that vaping has helped thousands, possibly millions of people smoke less or quit smoking altogether.
And as most people would attest, they feel healthier, breathe easier, and have saved a ton of money by switching to e-cigarettes.
In fact, many attest that vaping saved their life. You can find stories all over the Internet about how horrible cigarette addiction really is, and how vaping provided a cheap, much cleaner, and much healthier alternative.
As politicians and health experts wrestle with the vaping phenomenon, it’s important to remember that cigarettes are still the number one cause of preventable deaths in America today, and that vaping in general is still in its “Wild West” phase, before sensible government regulation.
Time will tell how dangerous vape aerosol truly is when used on a continuous basis, but in the meantime, it simply helps to stay informed and raise awareness so you and the people you know understand the risks.