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California Wildfires

Increase In Hospital Visits Resulting From West Coast Wildfires Has Doctors Concerned

The Northern California health system has reported a major surge in cases involving toxic smoke and its alarming health effects.

Vaping

Is Vaping Safer than Smoking?

When e-cigarettes were first introduced to the American public, they were marketed in large part as a safe tobacco-cessation aid, promising to help people quit smoking by allowing them to gradually reduce their nicotine intake over time. E-cigarettes and vaping generally were also marketed as healthier alternatives to cigarettes, as e-cigarette vapor does not contain much of the same tar and other harmful chemicals as cigarette smoke. In fact, Juul, one of the world’s largest e-cigarette companies, was found to have directly marketed to high-school kids, leveraging designs and flavors meant to appeal to teens and telling them that their products were “totally safe.” E-cigarette use has exploded in popularity in particular among young people, threatening decades of work done by the government to dissuade the younger generation from using recreational drugs like nicotine.

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While e-cigarettes have long been assumed to be safe due to the lack of combustion involved, recent events have introduced doubt about the safety of these devices. A few months ago, a string of vaping-related hospitalizations, some of which led to death, renewed fears that vaping is in fact more dangerous than companies like Juul have let on. In the aftermath of these mysterious illnesses, Walmart decided to stop selling e-cigarette devices, and some states even moved to ban flavored vaping products in an effort to minimize use among children and teenagers. The federal government has contemplated banning the sale of flavored e-cigarette ingredients as well, but has not yet done so. Eventually, the CDC tied the incidences of sudden, severe lung illness to counterfeit THC cartridges that were distributed in the black market, but an overall attitude of skepticism towards vaping in general persisted. Specifically, the researchers found that the ingredient vitamin E acetate, which is used as an additive to alter the consistency of THC oil, was to blame in this particular phenomenon.

While this year’s major health scare related to vaping turned out to be limited to counterfeit products, perceptions about the dangers of vaping persist and are supported by new evidence that suggests vaping can be responsible for some long-term illnesses. Specifically, an article published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine details a large study that compared the lungs of people who used e-cigarettes with cigarette smokers and those who did not consume nicotine over three years. Unsurprisingly, the last group had the lowest risk of developing a lung illness, but while e-cigarettes were found to cause problems in their own right, they were nonetheless considered safer and healthier than smoking.

“E-cigarettes should not be recommended.”

While differing in severity, the long-term health complications associated with vaping are similar to those associated with smoking cigarettes, and include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The most dangerous form of nicotine consumption mentioned in the study was “dual use,” which is a combination of vaping and smoking, as not only does this practice maximize the amount of nicotine one consumes but it also exposes the lungs to the most amount of smoke or vapor. Dual use is the most common pattern of use the researchers found, signalling trouble for the millions of teenagers whose nicotine addictions are fueled by multiple vectors of drug consumption. The results of the three-year study corroborated animal studies on the effects of vapor on the lungs. Worryingly, the study also found that certain harmful ingredients, like propylene glycol, diacetyl, and even metals were present at a higher concentration in e-cigarette vapor than in combusted cigarette smoke. 

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Overall, the study is extremely critical of e-cigarettes, suggesting they are only valuable in a limited number of cases, and it concludes with the line “E-cigarettes should not be recommended.” In a small number of cases, e-cigarettes can be a good option for people who are trying to quit smoking as long as they use the devices with discipline and respect. While still harmful, e-cigarette vapor is less harmful than smoke, and vaping formulas can be adjusted over time to gradually reduce their nicotine content. That being said, as a result of the high prevalence of “dual use,” using e-cigarettes while trying to quit smoking can backfire, and indeed for most people using an e-cigarette is connected with an even lower chance of successfully quitting smoking. Other tobacco cessation aids, like nicotine-infused chewing gum or skin patches, are more effective in helping people quit and pose no threat to the health and safety of the lungs.