Is Vaping Bad For You? Here’s The Truth
Smokers considering the switch to vaping often wonder if it’s harmful to their health
The Vaping Health Debate
Vaping has been an incredibly divisive topic ever since it first gained mainstream popularity nearly ten years ago. Plenty of critics claim that the vaping health risks are just as bad, if not worse than traditional cigarettes. At the same time, overly optimistic fans and businesses attempt to sell the idea that vaping is 100% harmless, little more than simple water vapor. Ultimately neither of these beliefs tells the whole story, with both attempting to paint their perfect picture.
To truly understand the vaping health risks you must first realize that the overwhelming majority of vapers are former smokers. That being the case, we must look at the harm of e-cigarettes through the lens of relative risk. A growing majority of peer-reviewed studies and public health experts agree that vaping is immensely safer than traditional tobacco and should be preferred if the alternative is continued smoking. That being said, vaping is not harmless. A few mild side effects have occasionally been associated with daily vaping, but to fully understand the long-term effects will require more time and research. So while we may not know everything there is to know yet, the research agrees it’s vaping is better than smoking.
The Low Down On Nicotine
We were very surprised to see just how many people don’t seem to be quite sure if you can vape without nicotine. While e-liquids are the most popular material used in vaporizers, and many do contain nicotine, most manufacturers offer nicotine free versions of their flavors. In fact, there are even brands now that only cater to nicotine free vapers. This is an excellent choice to have, given that nicotine use is associated with several adverse health effects.
Many people misunderstand what the actual risk of nicotine is, falsely believing it to be the primary cause of danger in cigarettes. The truth is that while nicotine use has several effects on the cardiovascular, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems, the majority of life-threatening conditions related to smoking are caused by the added chemicals in cigarettes, not the nicotine itself.
Due to prolonged heart stimulation, nicotine use has been associated with an increased risk for clots and stroke, raised blood pressure, and enlargement of the aorta. It’s also been connected to trouble falling and staying asleep as well as dizziness. Finally, nicotine has been known to sometimes cause nausea and vomiting, along with dry mouth and heartburn. As a result of these symptoms, many vapers choose to step down their nicotine intake over time.
This process is made much easier thanks to the fact that most manufacturers offer different nicotine strengths for each of their flavors. Your initial nicotine strength should reflect the amount of smoking you did before switching. For heavy smokers that means at least 12mg, while 6mg or slightly lower is ideal for light smokers. Regardless of where your starting point is, the idea of stepping down is to slowly reduce the amount of nicotine in your e-liquid while allowing your body time to adjust before moving on. It’s a similar process for anyone who has used nicotine patches in the past. Most vapers find that a few weeks is enough to allow their body to adjust to a new strength.
Once you get down to the lowest levels, it becomes harder to take smaller steps in-between. So what do you do if you’re not ready to go from 3mg down to 0? Well, it’s pretty easy to mix your custom strength. The two primary methods for this both work like a charm if done correctly. The first is by buying two different concentrations in the same flavor, for example, 3mg and 0mg. By mixing equal parts of each, you end up with a 1.5mg version of your favorite e-liquid. The same thing can be accomplished by using an unflavored base and diluting your preferred flavor by the same basic method. The main thing to remember when attempting this yourself is to be sure to use the same PG/VG balance. A difference in consistency may ultimately have no effect, but depending on the specific mix and device it could fail to work or even potentially damage parts.
The once valid argument against vaping saying there simply isn’t enough evidence proving the value is slowly but surely becoming wholly false. In truth is that there is a growing mountain of evidence that demonstrates not only is vaping safe, but it’s one of the best harm reduction and smoking cessation tools we have at our disposal. Here’s just a small selection of conclusions from peer-reviewed researchers that provide a clear picture of why vape smoke is much better than cigarette smoke:
- Vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking
- Vape smoke contains 450 times less toxic chemicals than cigarette smoke
- Smokers who switch to vaping experience significant health improvements
- Vaping leads to much lower rates of tobacco-related diseases
- Vaping bans will likely lead to higher teen smoking rates
Let’s explore each of these studies a bit further to understand their impact.
In the few years since this study was first published it’s become one of the most well-known pieces of evidence supporting vaping and it’s not hard to see why. The team of researchers from Public Health England, the federal health agency for England, found that not only is vaping safe, but it’s actually at least 95% safer than cigarettes. The same study concluded that nearly all of the 2.6 million vapers in Great Britain are either current or former smokers, highlighting just how few never-smokers end up vaping.
They doubled down on that belief, finding that there is no evidence vaping acts as a gateway to cigarette smoking for either teenagers or non-smoking adults. Unfortunately, they also found that almost half (44.8%) of people don’t understand how much safer vaping is than smoking. In fact, many even believe that vaping is just as, if not more dangerous than tobacco. But the results of this study are obvious; there are very few vaping health risks when compared with continued smoking.
This study was led by Dr. Maciej Lukasz Goniewicz of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and published in the Tobacco Control Journal. Dr. Goniewicz and his team set out to screen vape smoke for potentially carcinogenic compounds. After testing 12 different brands of e-cigarettes as well as a control prescription nicotine inhaler, the researchers concluded that the level of toxicants in vape smoke is as much as 450 times lower than in cigarette smoke. In fact, in several cases, the amounts found were similar to the concentrations found in normal air.
An online survey conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta wanted to assess the impact of making the switch to vaping from smoking. After collecting their data, the researchers noticed some intriguing patterns. For starters, every one of their over 300 participants was a former smoker, once again highlighting the rarity of never-smoking vapers. They indicated that a full 91% of respondents reported their general health had improved since starting vaping. That included 97% who reported an improvement in their smokers cough, and 84% saying they were now more able to exercise after making the switch.
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that proper utilization of vaping is the best chance we have to reduce the rate of tobacco-related death and disease significantly. They reached this conclusion due to a combination of factors, such as the popularity and acceptance of vaping as a smoking cessation tool, and the lack of evidence connecting vaping with increased teenage smoking. They also referenced other pieces of data that suggest the answer to “is vaping bad” is a resounding no, including research that indicates vape smoke doesn’t have any impact on bystanders.
This study was published in the Journal of Health Economics and aimed to explore the effect of vaping on tobacco use. They took a look at how state vaping bans impact the rate of smoking among minors aged 12-17. According to the researchers, on average these bans not only slow the declining smoking rate, they increase the number of teenage smokers by nearly a full percentage point. These results were tested for statistical significance via several falsifications and placebo checks. Ultimately they concluded that banning vaping would counteract around 70% of the pre-existing drop in teenage smoking in only two years.
Those are just a small selection of the many peer-reviewed studies that conclude vaping health risks are minuscule compared with continued smoking. If you’re interested in reading more, you can find a longer list here. But as we’ve discussed, vaping is not 100% harmless. So let’s go over some of the common side-effects of vaping, while also debunking some false claims.
Risks with Vaping
One of the most commonly referenced long-term effects of vaping is a condition called “popcorn lung.” But the truth is that this condition has never been scientifically associated with vaping. The disease gets its name due to first being found in microwave popcorn factory workers where diacetyl was a ubiquitous ingredient. Those who have been diagnosed with the debilitating condition have almost all been people who worked in environments where diacetyl or other harmful substances such as chlorine and ammonia is regularly inhaled in high doses over decades.
It only ever became associated with vape smoke due to a small selection of e-liquid makers in the early days using diacetyl as part of their flavoring. These days, nearly no reputable makers use this substance at all. But truth be told, even in those days the amount of diacetyl being inhaled by vapers was far from comparable to industrial workers. In fact, this was backed up by the California Department of Health when the conducted a study into the air quality of vape shops across the state. The researchers indicated that even in poorly ventilated shops, very few harmful substances could be found at detectable levels. This included not detecting diacetyl or any other materials associated with popcorn lung.
That being said, there are a few side-effects sometimes associated with vaping, luckily most of them are relatively mild. The most common side-effect of vaping is probably dry mouth and dry skin, both of which can cause prolonged irritation. If you’re using a nicotine e-liquid, you should be wary of how much you’re vaping over a short period as too much nicotine intake can cause mild to severe dizziness. Those just making a switch to vaping may sometimes experience caffeine sensitivity, where they may feel anxious or experience mood swings.
While we’re at it, it’s important always to check ingredients if you’re allergic to one or more substances. The flavorings in e-liquids are often the same as, or similar to, those found in many foods, so you should always take care to avoid any allergic reactions when vaping a new e-liquid. Some vapers have experienced canker sores on their lips and mouth after making the switch to vaping. This has been associated with either e-liquid making contact with bare skin or possibly an increase in acidity of your saliva due to switching from tobacco smoke to vape smoke. Lastly, it’s important to avoid nicotine addiction, especially if you’re one of the few vapers that weren’t a smoker previously. Nicotine is a very addictive substance and shouldn’t be taken lightly if you don’t already have a dependence.
Vaping is not 100% safe. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the overwhelmingly better choice if the alternative is continued smoking. While some still resist the data, most researchers and public health experts are starting to agree that vaping has an incredible amount of value as a harm reduction and smoking cessation aid. The key is to monitor your nicotine intake and ensure you’re not overdoing it.
Manufacturers make it easy to step down your nicotine strength over time, and your local vape shop is full of experienced vapers willing to help you on your journey. Don’t forget to take advantage of those who have already been through everything you’re going through. In no time you’ll be the one helping new vapers on their way to a healthier life with vape smoke. The leading cause of preventable death and disease around the world continues to be smoking, so if we genuinely want to improve vaping health, we must first understand and spread the idea that vaping health risks are minuscule compared with smoking health risks.