If you're contemplating quitting smoking, you're not alone. A majority of smokers, almost 70%, express a desire to quit. Giving up smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your health because smoking damages nearly all your body organs, especially your heart. About a third of heart disease-related deaths are linked to smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
You might be considering switching to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vaping devices) to ease the process of completely stopping smoking. But are e-cigarettes a healthier alternative to tobacco? Can they really help you quit smoking altogether? Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, provides insight on vaping.
1: Vaping might be less damaging than smoking, but it's not risk-free.
E-cigarettes heat nicotine (sourced from tobacco), flavorings, and other chemicals to produce a breathable aerosol. Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are poisonous. Even though the exact chemical makeup of e-cigarettes is unknown, Dr. Blaha states that vaping undoubtedly exposes you to fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes.
Nonetheless, there has been a wave of lung injuries and deaths tied to vaping. The CDC reported 2,807 cases of vaping-related lung injury (EVALI) and 68 deaths due to the condition by February 2020.
Dr. Blaha notes that these cases mostly affect individuals who tamper with their vaping devices or use illicitly modified e-liquids, particularly those containing THC.
The CDC identified vitamin E acetate, often used in THC vaping products, as a potential culprit in EVALI cases. The agency advises against the use of THC-containing e-cigarettes and vaping products, obtaining devices from unverified sources, and altering devices or adding any unintended substances.
A 2021 study from Johns Hopkins University revealed that vape products contain thousands of chemicals, many still unidentified. Among the recognizable ones were several potentially harmful substances.
2: Studies indicate that vaping is harmful to your heart and lungs.
Both regular and e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. It can lead to cravings and withdrawal symptoms if the cravings aren't satisfied. Prolonged exposure to nicotine can increase blood pressure, adrenaline levels, heart rate, and the chances of a heart attack.
The long-term health effects of the various chemicals in e-cigarette vapor are not yet fully understood, but preliminary data links vaping to chronic lung disease, asthma, and cardiovascular disease.
3: Electronic cigarettes can be as addictive as conventional cigarettes.
Nicotine is present in both e-cigarettes and traditional ones, and it's suggested to be as addictive as hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. Moreover, many e-cigarette users often consume more nicotine than they would from a regular tobacco product, as they can buy higher-strength cartridges or increase the device's voltage for a stronger nicotine hit.
4: E-cigarettes are not the most effective tool for quitting smoking.
While e-cigarettes are marketed as an aid to quit smoking, they are not FDA-approved as smoking cessation devices. A study revealed that many individuals who intended to quit smoking with e-cigarettes ended up using both traditional and e-cigarettes. Considering the EVALI outbreak, the CDC recommends considering other FDA-approved smoking cessation methods.
5: A new generation is becoming addicted to nicotine.
E-cigarettes, particularly disposable ones, are more popular among youth than any traditional tobacco product. Many teenagers believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking, find it more cost-effective, and prefer its odorless nature. But the rising vaping trend is concerning, especially among those who otherwise wouldn't have taken up smoking.
Though CDC research shows a slight decline in youth vaping since 2020, interpreting this data is complex due to changing preferences and potential misreporting of vaping habits. For example, youths might not classify using disposable products like "puff bars" as vaping. Meanwhile, the use of disposable e-cigarettes has surged among high school and middle school students since 2019.