All About Vaping

What is ‘Vaping’?

Electronic cigarettes (ecigs) are a modern way of quitting smoking, while still getting the “feel” and nicotine from smoking.  At the moment, there’s still not enough long-term data to determine if vaping helps smokers quit in both the short and long term durations, but many studies are reporting favorable results.

The process of using an ecig is often referred to as “vaping”, due to the vapor produced.  An electric coil powered by a battery turns a flavored liquid (ejuice, vap juice, or just juice) into a vapor that is inhaled.  Ecigs range from small devices, which look almost exactly like cigarettes and use a cartridge, to large devices about the size of a large cigar that use a liquid in which the user places into it, to very large and customizable units.

Most vaping flavors are composed of four things:

Vegetable Glycerin: The one of component of vaping “juices” is often referred to as “VG”.  This produces the large amounts of vapor expected by those who vape.

Propylene Glycol: VG doesn’t carry flavors very well, but PG does.  PG is a fairly thick liquid, and doesn’t produce much vapor.  So, the two are mixed together, though there’s no standard for the ratio.  Different VG/PG ratios produce anything from huge amounts of vapor clouds to “stealth vaping” where almost no visible vapor is produced.  PG is often poorly stated as being an anti-freeze.  Actually, it’s used in inhalers, a carrier for various oral and injected medications, and various foods as a stabilizer.

Liquid Nicotine: Both VG and PG are fairly safe on their own.  Liquid nicotine, on the other hand, holds the potential to be hazardous, particularly to children if vaping juices are ingested.  Not all vaping juices contain nicotine, and many places that do custom blending allow the person vaping to select their level of nicotine, or none at all.

A Flavorant: Flavors are sort of a wildcard.  There’s no standardization as to what is used for favoring in a juice, and each manufacturer has their own (often undisclosed) formulation.

The Health Benefits of Vaping

There are ads that make it sound like there are health benefits to vaping.  That would be completely incorrect.  Instead, there may – and I stress may – be health benefits to vaping instead of smoking tobacco products.  The effects and risks have been the subject of much research, and often, legal cases:

Heart Disease:

  • Hypertension
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Blocked blood vessel
  • Strokes

Types of Cancer:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Upper respiratory tract
  • Larynx
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Pancreas
  • Kidney
  • Bladder
  • Cervix

Lung Disease:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Lung Cancer

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to:

  • Birth Defects
  • Miscarriage
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth

Other Potential Effects

  • Abnormal sperm cells
  • Impotence
  • Menstrual disorders and early menopause
  • Prematurely wrinkled skin
  • Permanent gum and tooth loss
  • Lost or weakened sense of taste
  • Weakened immune system
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Unwanted weight loss

Tobacco smoking accounts for roughly 480,000 deaths per year in the United States – it accounts of nearly 1/5th of all deaths in the US.  Additionally, those exposed to second hand smoke – as in, those who don’t actually smoke, but spend time around a smoker or smokers – are at risk for many of the same health effects.  It’s not that vaping is healthy, it’s that it may be a healthier choice than smoking, and a healthier choice than exposing others to second hand smoke.

It should also be pointed out that it’s a healthier choice, but that’s not a reason to start.  There’s a growing number of non-smokers that are taking up vaping, particularly at a young age.  Problem is, there’s not enough research yet to suggest it’s a good idea as a new habit to pick up, rather than just as an alternative to a very unhealthy habit.

The Potential Health Hazards with Vaping

Here’s the first thing to know about the potential hazards of vaping:  nearly every risk listed here is unverified at the moment.  The industry, and the research behind it, is so new that there hasn’t been time to fully digest all the possible health hazards involved.

Hazardous Materials

One of the first big tests to show the potential for a hazard with vaping was the discovery of heavy metals in ecigs.  Lead, cadmium, and nickel were all found to be present in low levels in this study.  How low?  Well below the recommended daily exposure levels for each of them.  In fact, one study showed it was very little risk involved for someone thinking of switching from smoking to ecigs.  Like many things, more testing is required:  this only covered a few brands available.

Flavorants

One early flavorant scare was “popcorn lung”.  The term popcorn lung comes from cases of bronchiolitis obliterans that first occurred in microwave popcorn factories using Diacetyl, an additive used to give popcorn a buttery flavor.  When testing, 47 of 55 flavors from a specific company contained diacetyl.  However, it should be noted that the sample size (55 flavors) is very small for the size of the industry – there’s no way currently of knowing how many favors have diacetyl.  Then, it gets even more complicated – the FDA still has diacetyl approved for human consumption, and has made no determination on inhalation, even in the case of the microwave popcorn factory cases.  There’s also an extremely good chance there’s no effect when vaped at all:  tobacco contains diacetyl levels well in excess of the amount found in testing of vaping juices (110 times the amount), but bronchiolitis obliterans is not a common side effect of smoking.  That doesn’t mean for certain it’s safe, but is a relatively good indicator.

Similarly, Acetyl Propionyl is found in some flavors as an alternative to diacetyl, but has also come under controversy as a potential danger for bronchiolitis obliterans.

That’s only two flavorings used.  While not current, the last count put the industry at 7,700 different flavors, many of which are achieved with different formulations for the same flavors.  It may be an advisable idea to research who your purchase your juices from, and to research the flavorants  they make use of.  However, in the case of diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, many places that produce vaping juices simply quit using these chemicals, and turned to other replacements, just in case there is a health hazard.

Other Health Concerns

The inhalation of nicotine (for those vaping juices that contain it) still runs some of the risks involved in smoking.  High blood pressure, lung irritation, throat irritation, and others are still a possibility.  For a long list of the possible list of side effects from nicotine inhalation it’s self (so that we can separate the possible effects from the potential effects of the flavorants), we can look at nicotine inhalers.

There’s also discussion of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) being potentially more virulent in both smokers and those who vape.  The connection between vaping and MRSA virulency is currently unknown.

Future Outlook on Vaping

In Kansas, there’s no state level regulations on vaping currently.  Instead, all regulation is left up to localities to decide what they feel is best for the community.  There are no outright bans on vaping, but there are some cities and counties (neither Sedgwick County nor Wichita are among them) that have placed regulations on vaping in enclosed places of business.

In 2016, the FDA extended it’s control over nicotine products to include “ENDS” – Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, which includes ecigs.  This produced a large outcry in both the vaping community, and the shops that serve customers.  The FDA has no intention of reversing course on their decision, but did produce resources and processes to help ease the burden slightly on small vape shopthat produce their own juice blends.  The long term effects on the extra regulatory burdens on small vape shops has yet to be seen.  Before the new FDA regulations went in to place, it was said to be the end of small vape shops.  That was in August 2016.  Now, in November 2016, the business of vaping may have changed a bit, but it’s still going strong, with new shops popping up or expanding.

And, as time goes on, we’ll continue to see changes in the understanding of the health effects of vaping.  If you’re a smoker thinking of switching to vaping, it’s probably a very wise choice:  as of yet, there is nothing that’s been found with vaping to suggest that it has negative health effects anything like tobacco use.  If you’re a non-smoker thinking of picking up vaping, you may be gambling with your heath in the long term, based on a lot of unknowns.

This article is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice.  Healthcare is an individualized process, and reading an article online should not be your source for healthcare advice - instead, it's intended to help you better understand the process or healthcare, inform about a specific disease, or present the potential for lifestyle changes that may occur with a disease or disorder.  Do no rely on online articles for healthcare - instead, consult your healthcare provider if you feel you may be suffering from symptoms presented in this article, or other symptoms not listed here.

Davis Sickmon is a writer, sometimes college instructor, entrepreneur, and IT professional. More information about Davis can be found at his personal website.

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