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Your Questions About E-Cigarettes (Vaping)

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD November 13, 2018

Let’s talk about using E-cigarettes, aka vaping. Here are five questions you commonly ask.

What is vaping, and how is it different from smoking cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that typically resemble a pen or cigarette. They enable smokers to get their “nicotine fix” without being exposed to all the other chemicals contained within regular cigarettes. E-cigarettes have chambers in which you place liquid nicotine with additional ingredients and flavorings. Heating the liquid turns the liquid into vapor. This is why the name “vaping” is applied when one uses an e-cigarette.

Is vaping safe?

On an absolute scale, the answer is no. On a relative scale, the answer is likely “safer than regular cigarettes.” Simply put, nicotine is addictive, and it produces withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Nicotine causes several other problems of note. It exacerbates problems for those with heart disease and causes damage to blood vessels. Also, nicotine harms the developing brains of kids and could affect memory and attention. Pregnant women or those attempting to become pregnant must avoid nicotine exposure, because nicotine clearly causes damage to unborn babies. E-cigarettes do not remove all the chemicals found in cigarettes; formaldehyde and other cancer-inducing products are still present.

Is vaping safer than smoking cigarettes?

The basis for e-cigarettes being safer than regular cigarettes is the production of toxins with burning that occurs when smoking cigarettes. Vaping doesn’t reach the threshold of burning, so the thousands of chemicals found in cigarettes don’t produce the same effect. A safe estimate of the relative safety of e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes would be that vaping is about 75% safer than smoking cigarettes, but it bears repeating: neither is safe. Fortunately, the risks of second-hand vaping are very low, according to currently research.

Is vaping effective at getting people to stop smoking cigarettes?

The American Heart Association recommends that e-cigarettes should only be used as a last-ditch effort toward quitting cigarette smoking. Unfortunately, most of the e-cigarette use in the US occurs in addition to cigarette use, as opposed to replacing cigarette use.

How is vaping affecting childhood smoking? Does it lead kids to smoke?

One commonly expressed concern is that kids who start vaping may continue as smokers throughout life. The concern arises due to the many kid-friendly flavors in e-cigarettes.

The journal Pediatrics published a study in 2016 showing a six-fold increase in cigarette use in those who used e-cigarettes compared to those who did not. A 2015 study produced in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed a similar finding. Yet, the overall trend of childhood smoking remains encouraging. Data from the CDC show that while use of e-cigarettes went up to 24% in 2015, cigarette smoking dropped to a historic low — to just under 11%.

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