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Is vaping really guilt free?

Vaping is healthier than smoking, and can help you kick your cigarette habit.

1 June 2017
4 minute read

woman smoking e-cigarette

Smoking cigarettes is one of the worst things you can do for your health. Vaping is gaining popularity as a healthy – or healthier – alternative that can help smokers kick the cigarette habit. In offices and at or parties, vapers can be found puffing away at their e-cigarette of choice, enjoying everything that they ever liked about smoking real cigarettes, but with a massive reduction in health concerns.

Media coverage of negative vaping studies has created fears that vaping may itself be somewhat harmful. The good news is that the experts still consider it close to risk-free. Here’s what you need to know.

No tar – and nicotine is not the problem If your vaping liquid contains nicotine (which is kind of the point), then you are still imbibing an addictive substance. But nicotine is not the stuff that causes cancer and lung disease – it’s the tar and toxic gases that result from burning tobacco that do that – so you avoid those proven concerns about smoking when puffing on an e-cigarette.

If your vaping liquid contains nicotine (which is kind of the point), then you are still imbibing an addictive substance.

Sally Satel, who writes about issues at the intersection of medicine and culture, wrote for Forbes: “Nicotine is only a menace when it addicts people to conventional cigarettes – that is tobacco wrapped in paper. By contrast, in the process of vaping, nicotine carries little risk by itself.”

She added that in the seven (now nine) years since e-cigarettes have been used in the United States, no negative health consequences have materialised.

Therefore, while courting an addiction is unwise and living with one can be burdensome and expensive, the nicotine itself is unlikely to hurt you much.

It is possible to purchase nicotine-free vaping liquid, which then does away with the concerns about nicotine addiction – but losing the nicotine makes vaping less helpful in terms of quitting cigarettes (which you really do want to do!).

The vaping process itself is not dangerous In an e-cigarette, a battery powers an atomiser, which heats the vaping liquid and creates a vapour. The vaping liquid is made up of vegetable glycerine, propylene glycol (which is commonly found in asthma inhalers), food-grade flavourings and nicotine. None of these substances are particularly harmful to inhale, and the temperature to which they are heated will not cause lung damage.

An independent evidence review published in the UK found that e-cigarettes were 95% less harmful than true cigarettes. However, the study still recommended that e-cigarettes be used as a tool to stop smoking altogether, rather than embraced as an alternative.

Vaping myths debunked Much of the negative publicity around vaping is fear-mongering rather than fact. Numerous studies have shown that the potential harm of vaping is fairly small. Here are some of the most common vaping myths, debunked.

Myth: Vaping liquid contains antifreeze.

False. It contains propylene glycol, which is added to antifreeze to make it less harmful if swallowed. (It’s also added to some whiskeys!)

Myth: Vaping causes you to inhale formaldehyde.

False. The study that said so overheated the vaping liquid so that the glycol was broken down into formaldehyde. The liquid would not reach such a high temperature during vaping.

Myth: Vaping causes “popcorn lung”.

False. A study based this conclusion on the fact that factory workers who inhaled high levels of diacetyl from butter flavouring ended up with popcorn lung (a slang term for obliterative bronchitiolitis, which causes serious lung damage). Diacetyl is present in some flavours of vaping liquid, but in quantities nowhere close to what the factory workers would have inhaled (and also significantly less than those found in true cigarettes, which also do not cause popcorn lung).

What about second-hand vape? There is is no smoke in an e-cigarette (the mist you see is vapour), but does that mean second-hand vaping is completely safe?

E-cigarette exhalations contain eight times less nicotine than cigarette exhalations, according to a report, “E-cigarettes: an evidence update” commissioned by Public Health England. In addition, 85% of second hand smoke comes from the burning cigarette, rather than the smoke exhalation. There is no vapour released by an e-cigarette, other than when the vaper is actively inhaling.

Simply put, if vaping itself isn’t bad for you, then second-hand vaping is significantly less bad than that.

So, is vaping completely safe? It does seem that the health risks posed by vaping are not significant. However, you do inhale trace elements, and inhaling anything other than pure fresh air could come with some small risk.

Vaping is a fairly recent invention, and the studies we do have are limited. We don’t have the full picture, and no doubt we will come to understand more about its health impact over time. What is beyond doubt is that vaping is much safer than cigarette smoking, so if you’re struggling to give up smoking, try vaping. But if you don’t smoke, don’t start puffing on an e-cigarette.

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