Is vaping safer than smoking?

Science doesn't support industry claims that vaping and e-cigarettes are safe for your health.

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While smoking rates among both adults and youth continue to decline, another troubling trend is on the rise: Use of vape pens, e-cigarettes and other products that advertise themselves as safer alternatives to smoking.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

  • Smoking among adults decreased from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 17.8 percent in 2013.
  • Among middle-school students, current smoking rates decreased from 4.3 percent in 2011 to 2.5 percent in 2014.
  • Among high-school students, rates declined from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 9.2 percent in 2014.
  • From 2011 to 2014, e-cigarette use among high-school students soared from 1.5 percent to 13.4 percent, and among middle-school students from 0.6 percent to 3.9 percent.
  • During that same time period, spending on e-cigarette advertising rose from $6.4 million in 2011 to an estimated $115 million in 2014.
  • Use of chewing tobacco among student athletes has remained steady since 2001.

E-cigarettes, e-hookahs and vape pens are all classified under what the CDC calls an electronic nicotine delivery system, or ENDS. The devices hold a cartridge of liquid containing nicotine, which comes in an array of flavors that would make a candy store proud. Users inhale an aerosol instead of tobacco smoke.

Companies that make and sell ENDS have marketed them as a safe alternative to smoking and even a way to quit smoking. The truth is we don’t have enough information to know the long-term health implications of the devices, and early studies by the CDC show that they are more likely a gateway to traditional smoking, especially among younger users.

Nicotine risks in any form

While ENDS users inhale fewer toxins than with traditional cigarettes, they still inhale a vapor of nicotine, a highly addictive substance that is the leading reversible cause of chronic health conditions. Nicotine reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to the heart, speeds up the heart rate and contributes to hypertension. According to the American Heart Association, about one of every five deaths from heart disease is linked to smoking.

All smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, snuff and snus, also contain nicotine and come with increased risks of heart disease, as well as risk of mouth and throat cancers.

Other risks associated with nicotine and ENDS:

  • Nicotine is toxic to developing fetuses and impairs fetal brain and lung development.
  • Because the adolescent brain is still developing, nicotine use during adolescence can disrupt the formation of brain circuits that control attention, learning and susceptibility to addiction.
  • People, especially young children, have been poisoned by exposure to the concentrated nicotine liquid, by ingesting it, absorbing it through the skin or inhaling it.
  • E-cigarette exposure calls to poison centers increased from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014, and more than half of those calls were regarding children ages 5 and under.
  • According to the surgeon general, we already have ample evidence to warn pregnant women, women of reproductive age and all adolescents against using nicotine products such as smokeless tobacco and ENDS as alternatives to smoking.

Nicotine isn’t all you get when you vape. Along with every vanilla- or blueberry-flavored drag of nicotine, ENDS users inhale an aerosol that can contain heavy metals, ultrafine particulate and cancer-causing agents like formaldehyde and acrolein.

In short, for young people who see vaping or chewing tobacco as a safe, risk-free activity that is completely different than smoking, it’s simply not true. Nicotine in any form comes with health risks, and some studies show that young people who have never smoked cigarettes are up to three times more likely to try cigarettes after vaping, according to the CDC.

No studies have confirmed the claims that these new devices are a safe alternative for current smokers, or a way to ease into quitting smoking.

Free help to quit smoking

There are proven methods that help people quit smoking through the use of safe, monitored and tapered nicotine substitutes, such as a combination of nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, which deliver small amounts of nicotine over a longer period to help reduce cravings. There are also seven FDA-approved medications that may help smokers break their nicotine addictions.

Quitting is always easier when you reach out for help. An excellent resource is the Delaware Quitline, operated by the Delaware Division of Public Health. The Delaware Quitline offers free support and lots of great information for smokers, even those who don’t feel like they are ready to quit. You can get help from trained counselors on the phone or face-to-face.

The number is 800-QUITNOW. Based on income, the Quitline also can help you get vouchers for nicotine patches and other aids to help you become an ex-smoker.