Are e-cigarettes safe?

Health, Lifestyle
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E-cigarettes are often promoted as better for our health than regular cigarettes.  E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.

They can be used as a stage on the way to stopping altogether. The NHS says:

“A major UK clinical trial published in 2019 found that, when combined with expert face-to-face support, people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking were twice as likely to succeed as people who used other nicotine replacement products, such as patches or gum.”

Sadly some people take up vaping with no real intention of quitting. They may feel it is harmless, but is it really? Are electronic cigarettes harmful?

E-cigarettes and toxic metals

A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (USA) found high levels of toxic metals in the liquid that creates the aerosol that e-cigarette users inhale when they vape. They found cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese and nickel in all the five brands they tested. These metals can contribute to cancer.

Exposure to cadmium can call anaemia and kidney damage; it has been implicated in high blood pressure, lung damage and atherosclerosis. Chromium is involved in lung disease, and a nickel allergy is a common cause of dermatitis.

Lead is involved in loss of appetite, constipation, headache, weakness, blue or black line on gums, anaemia, irritability, vomiting, poor co-ordination, unsteady gait, visual disturbances and delirium. Not a great recommendation for exposing yourself to it!

Manganese is involved with lethargy, involuntary movements, impairment of voluntary movements and changes in muscle tone.

Moving from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes may seem like a positive thing to do. But this research suggests you need to think again.

Are the flavourings used in e-cigarettes safe?

There is also concern about the flavourings used in e-cigarettes. These include menthol (mint), acetylpyridine (burnt flavor), vanillin (vanilla), cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon), eugenol (clove), diacetyl (butter), dimethylpyrazine (strawberry), isoamyl acetate (banana) and eucalyptol (spicy cooling). Research has shown that these can be a health problem too.

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Research (published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, an American Heart Association journal.) into several of the flavorings — menthol, clove, vanillin, cinnamon and burnt flavoring — showed that their use resulted in higher levels of an inflammatory marker and lower levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that inhibits inflammation and clotting, and regulates vessels’ ability to widen in response to greater blood flow.

Some other research from the Yale Cancer Center suggests yet more reasons for concern. One in four high school students in the US who use electronic cigarettes are inhaling vapours produced by dripping e-liquids directly onto heating coils, instead of inhaling from the e-cigarette mouthpiece. This is likely to increase their exposure to toxins and nicotine.

What about the heating unit in vaping?

Early results of an experimental vaping study have shown significant lung injury from e-cigarette  devices with nickel-chromium alloy heating elements. The findings were consistent, with or without the use of nicotine, vitamin E oil or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which have previously been thought to contribute to the life-threatening respiratory problem. The analysis was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association by researchers from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and the Huntington Medical Research Institutes.

Are e-cigarettes safer than regular cigarettes?

The American Heart Association cautions against the use of e-cigarettes, stating that e-cigarettes containing nicotine are tobacco products that should be subject to all laws that apply to these products. The Association also calls for strong new regulations to prevent access, sales and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth, and for more research into the product’s health impact.

Yet other researchers found that using e-cigarettes and cigarettes, in comparison to nicotine-free e-cigarettes, had the same significant impact on health, with participant’s blood pressure and heart rate being affected. Peripheral systolic blood pressure was raised significantly for 45 minutes after using an e-cigarette and 15 minutes after smoking a cigarette. Heart rate also remained elevated for 45 minutes for e-cigarettes, with the increase being higher than 8% for the first 30 minutes. In comparison, traditional cigarettes only raised heart rate for 30 minutes and there was again no change when using nicotine-free e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes and cancer

In a 2018 study researchers report that vaping may modify the genetic material, or DNA, in the oral cells of users, which could increase their cancer risk.

All of this suggests that we shouldn’t believe that e-cigarettes are a better health option than smoking regular cigarettes. Instead it’s important to think about giving up.

How to give up smoking

The most reliable way of giving up seems to be using the strategy taught by Allen Carr in his book “Easy Way To Stop Smoking”. Many people have told me that reading his book was the key to giving up without a lot of stress and unhappiness. Carr’s basic reasoning is that when you give up smoking you are not giving up anything positive. You enjoy each cigarette because it turns off, temporarily, the addiction you are experiencing to nicotine. Each cigarette reinforces the addiction. Victoria Coren Mitchell, who used to smoke 60 cigarettes a day, explains how e-cigarettes are a bad idea and reading Allen Carr’s book is a good idea in this entertaining article. Give your lungs and your life a break. Read Allen Carr’s book.