Vaping & E-Cigarettes: Are They Truly Safer Than Cigarettes?

by Marcos Puente, PharmD Candidate Class of 2020,
University of Arizona

September 27, 2019

vaping-dangers

If you have transitioned from regular cigarettes to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or vaping products for a safer and healthier alternative, you may want to reevaluate your decision. Until recently, many people believed that e-cigarettes and vaping were considered a “better” option compared to cigarettes because they do not release tar as well as other toxic gases found in cigarette smoke.5

Although many individuals have found that transitioning to e-cigarettes or vaping has helped with reducing their use of traditional cigarettes, and in some cases have helped cigarette smokers quit overall, recent cases of lung illnesses have raised the question: are e-cigarettes and/or vaping truly a better, safer alternative to traditional cigarettes?

An Epidemic of Lung Ailments

Vomiting, coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue have been the most common signs and symptoms most individuals have complained about after vaping/using e-cigarettes within the last 90 days4. As of September 7, 2019, there have been at least 450 cases of an unknown lung disease possibly related to vaping, which has already claimed the life of three people across the nation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating extensively to pinpoint the exact cause of these lung disease outbreaks and if they are in anyway related to vaping and/or using e-cigarettes3.

What We Now Know

  • CDC and FDA are warning consumers about the vaping-linked lung disease
  • CDC is recommending avoiding e-cigarettes while the FDA is suggesting avoiding products that contain THC (marijuana compound that produces a high)3
  • It is still too early to pinpoint an exact cause or culprit for the outbreak of these lung illness cases3

Potential Cause of these Lung Illness Cases

Although an exact explanation has not been recognized as to what is causing these recent lung disease outbreaks, health investigators have linked vaping to the underlying cause of these lung ailment cases. A clinical psychologist from San Francisco, Dr. Danielle Ramo, suggests that certain additives in the vapor being released from these vaping products contain oils that can be highly dangerous and toxic if heated and inhaled.1 One of the oils being identified in many of these recent outbreak cases is vitamin E, which is commonly used as a supplement and topical moisturizer/cream. Although Vitamin E is safe when applied topically and consumed as a supplement, it can cause damaging effects when inhaled as smoke.3 Although not all vaping products and e-cigarettes contain these additives, it is sill highly recommended to avoid these products until further research and studies have been completed.1

What this Means to You

If you are currently using e-cigarettes or vaping as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, it is highly recommended to quit until a definitive cause is identified for the growing number of lung disease cases across the nation.4 It is too early to determine if a certain brand is responsible for these outbreaks or if the lung illness cases are related to a specific ingredient found in some products offered on the shelves, or possibly even a black-market product being sold which can potentially contain an unsafe chemical. Whatever the cause may be, quitting e-cigarettes and vaping overall can potentially decrease your risk of developing future lung disease (e.g. COPD, lung cancer).

Need Help Quitting?

There are services and support to help assist you in quitting vaping and/or using e-cigarettes. To get free, personalized support from an expert you can call 1.800-QUIT-NOW or 1.800.44U-QUIT to talk with a tobacco cessation counselor. There is also becomeanex.org, a website designed to help support and give you resources to help you quit smoking or vaping.2

Resources:

  1. Graff, Amy. “57 Cases of Lung Illness Linked to Vaping Reported in California, 1 Death.” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Sept. 2019, www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/vaping-California-acute-lung-disease-death-14424730.php
  2. “Imagine Your Life without Tobacco. Looks Great, Right?” Become An EX Smoker, Learn to Quit Smoking, Stop Smoking Cigarettes, www.becomeacnex.org/.
  3. Lavito, Angelica. “What Should People Avoid Inhaling during Mysterious Lung Disease Outbreak? Health Officials Disagree.” CNBC, CNBC, 7 Sept. 2019, www.cnbc.com/2019/09/07/cdc-fda-clash-on-warning-consumers-during-lung-disease-outbreak.html.
  4. Richtel, Matt, and Denise Grady. “What You Need to Know About Vaping-Related Lung Illness.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Sept. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/09/07/health/vaping-lung-illness.html
  5. Ross, John. “E-Cigarettes: Good News, Bad News.” Harvard Health Blog, 5 Aug. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/electronic-cigarettes-good-news-bad-news-2016072510010

 

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