How Harmful is Vaping?
The Hidden Dangers of a Modern Obsession
In the past few years, vaping has surged in popularity, touted as a safer alternative to traditional smoking. With sleek devices and an array of enticing flavours, vaping has attracted millions, especially among the younger generation.
But what exactly is vaping and is it as harmless as it seems?
Definitely not. Find out which chemicals are used in vape juice and the hidden dangers of this modern obsession, and why it’s so detrimental to health.
What is vaping?
Vaping, short for vapourising, refers to the act of inhaling aerosol produced by an electronic device, commonly known as an e-cigarette or vape pen. These devices work by heating a liquid, usually containing nicotine, to create a vapour that users inhale. Initially marketed as a smoking cessation tool, vaping quickly transformed into a widespread phenomenon, embraced by both former smokers seeking an alternative and curious individuals looking for a trendier way to consume nicotine.
The chemical composition in vapes
Vaping liquids, often referred to as e-liquids or vape juice, come in a variety of flavours and nicotine concentrations. While flavours may be the initial allure, it’s essential to understand the chemical composition of these liquids and the potential risks associated with their inhalation.
The following chemicals are found in vapes:
Nicotine: The Addictive Ingredient
Nicotine, a highly addictive stimulant, remains a core component of most vaping liquids. Its presence can quickly lead to nicotine addiction, a significant concern for both new and experienced vapers. Nicotine is not only addictive but also detrimental to health as it contributes to increased heart rate and heightened blood pressure. It can also negatively affect brain development, particularly in adolescents.
Propylene Glycol (PG) and Vegetable Glycerine (VG)
These two chemicals serve as the base for e-liquids, responsible for creating the aerosol that users inhale. While generally recognised as safe for consumption, inhaling PG and VG in vapour form can cause respiratory irritation, particularly for individuals with preexisting lung conditions.
The wide range of flavours available is one of vaping’s most appealing aspects. However, the safety of these flavourings is a contentious issue as they contain hundreds of different chemicals which are harmful to health. Diacetyl is one type of harmful compound found in some flavourings which is associated with a severe lung condition known as ‘popcorn lung’. It was once commonly used to create buttery flavourings in microwave popcorn but has since been removed from such products. Popcorn lung causes inflammation and scarring of the small airways in the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties, persistent cough and reduced lung function.
This chemical is a byproduct of the heating process in vaping and can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat soreness and difficulty breathing. Acetaldehyde can trigger inflammation and increased mucous production in the respiratory tract, causing the bronchial tubes in the lungs to constrict or narrow. This constriction can reduce lung function and result in breathing difficulties, and may exacerbate symptoms in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Vaping at high temperatures can lead to the formation of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen (meaning it has the potential to cause cancer in humans). This chemical transformation occurs due to the interaction between the liquid’s ingredients, such as propylene glycol and glycerine, and the intense heat generated by the vaping device. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde through vaping may increase the risk of developing respiratory problems and could contribute to the development of cancer over time.
Again, this is a chemical that is produced during the heating of e-liquids which can irritate the eyes, throat and respiratory tract, prompting symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and increased risk of respiratory infections. Long-term exposure can contribute to more severe respiratory conditions.
Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and nickel have been detected in some vape products, posing significant health concerns. These metals can leach into the e-liquid and subsequently be inhaled into the lungs during vaping. Lead, in particular, is a highly toxic heavy metal that can impair neurological development, especially in young individuals. Cadmium exposure is associated with lung and prostate cancers, while nickel can cause lung and nasal cancer. Arsenic can damage to the liver, kidneys, skin and the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Even trace amounts of these heavy metals inhaled regularly through vaping can accumulate in the body over time, potentially leading to severe health consequences.
Health risks of vaping
Vaping is often marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, but emerging evidence suggests otherwise. The long-term effects on health are still unknown and it will likely be years before the full scope of vaping-related health risks becomes clear. Here are some health risks that have become apparent so far:
Respiratory issues and lung damage
Vaping can lead to a range of respiratory problems, from persistent coughs to severe lung conditions. The inhalation of aerosolised chemicals can irritate the airways and lead to chronic bronchitis-like symptoms. There have been reports of severe lung injuries linked to vaping, particularly among young adults and adolescents. The condition known as EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) can result in hospitalisation and, in some cases, death.
Nicotine addiction and cardiovascular problems
Nicotine, a prevalent component in many vape liquids, acts as a stimulant and can have detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system. When inhaled, nicotine can lead to an immediate increase in heart rate and blood pressure, putting added strain on the heart. Over time, chronic nicotine exposure can contribute to the development of heart disease, including conditions like atherosclerosis, which involves the narrowing and hardening of arteries, and can ultimately lead to heart attacks and strokes. Many individuals who start vaping as a supposed smoking cessation tool end up addicted to nicotine. This can perpetuate their addiction and introduce new health risks.
As highlighted above, vaping carries the potential risk of causing cancer due to the presence of harmful chemicals and carcinogens in e-cigarette aerosols. While vaping may expose users to fewer toxic substances compared to traditional tobacco smoking, it is not without risk. Some chemicals produced during the heating of e-liquids, such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, are known carcinogens. Prolonged exposure to these carcinogens can damage the DNA within cells, potentially leading to the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells and the development of cancer. While the long-term effects of vaping on cancer risk are still being studied, the evidence suggests that it is not a safe alternative to smoking when it comes to cancer prevention.
Prioritise well-being over the vaping trend
While vaping may have initially appeared as a promising alternative to traditional smoking, it has unveiled a host of hidden dangers. The chemicals involved pose significant health risks, including addiction, respiratory problems and severe lung injuries. As vaping continues to captivate younger generations and those seeking an escape from smoking, it is crucial to prioritise health and well-being, and avoid it at all costs.
To learn more about supporting your health naturally and detoxing from harmful substances, take a look at the following short courses and resources: