E-Cigarettes: What Vaping Does to Your Body

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Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, have been on the market in the U.S. since 2008 and have gained wider use in recent years. Presently, evidence is beginning to emerge on e-cigs short-term effects, and their positive and negative effect on people’s health.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a fluid usually containing nicotine mixed with the chemicals propylene glycol and glycerin, and often flavorings going from bubble gum to watermelon into a vapor that users can inhale. They deliver nicotine, an exceedingly addictive medication, to the body without creating any smoke.

This month, the U.S. Nourishment and Drug Administration announced that its power to regulate tobacco products will now extend to include e-cigarettes. The devices — alongside cigars, hookah and pipe tobacco — will now be regulated likewise to conventional cigarettes. The new rules, which take effect on Aug. 8, also banned the sale of these products to people under age 18 both in stores and online.

But since e-cigs are relatively new nicotine-delivery products, there are numerous unanswered questions about their safety and health impacts, including questions about their long haul use and effectiveness in helping customary smokers to stop. What, exactly, is in an e-cigarette, and how do these chemicals affect the heart and lungs as well as a person’s overall health? Live Science asked two tobacco experts for their insight into these questions, and here is what they said.

What’s known about e-cigs

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There is no question that a puff on an e-cigarette is less dangerous than a puff on a conventional cigarette, a professor of medicine and the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

Because e-cigarettes create a vapor rather than produce a tobacco smoke, they generally deliver less nicotine to users than cigarettes do.

However, this doesn’t mean the devices always represent a safer step down from cigarettes. Truth be told, one of the most dangerous things about e-cigarettes is that they may keep people smoking conventional cigarettes longer, rather than encourage them to attempt to stop, he said. In spite of the fact that estimates fluctuate, anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of e-cigarette users are “double users,” meaning they continue to smoke regular cigarettes after they begin vaping.

In any case, regardless of how the nicotine is delivered whether through e-cigs or conventional cigarettes it still has effects on the body. The medication is a cardiovascular stimulant, and can potentially worsen heart disease in people who already have severe heart conditions. However, it’s not known whether nicotine alone can cause heart disease in people who don’t have heart problems, a tobacco researcher and professor of group health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health.

In any case, there’s some evidence that e-cigarettes can have a substantial effect on veins, and may increase people’s heart assault risk in that way.

What’s more, nicotine is poisonous in its concentrated, e-fluid shape, and there have been an increasing number of cases of infants and youthful children accidentally ingesting it.

Nicotine also has effects on reproductive health, and exposure to nicotine amid pregnancy, regardless of its delivery method, can hurt the developing fetus and lead to babies conceived with low birth weights.

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The use of e-cigarettes by kids of secondary school age has soared – CDC statistics show that 1.5 percent of secondary school teens had tried e-cigs in 2011, compared with 16 percent in 2015. The rise has occurred even as researchers are discovering more evidence that nicotine can be harmful to a youngster’s still-developing cerebrum and body systems, Glantz said. Studies have also shown that kids who use e-cigarettes have more respiratory problems and take more days off from school.

Notwithstanding the nicotine, e-cigs’ other chemicals may also affect health. Research on the vapors emitted and inhaled from e-cigarettes has shown they deliver particles small enough to reach deep into the lungs and that they are not the “harmless water vapor” that marketers may assert, Glantz revealed to Live Science.

Propylene glycol, a chemical found in e-liquids, can irritate the eyes and airways. Early studies have also revealed that when propylene glycol or glycerin are heated and vaporized, they can degrade into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, he said. Both of these chemicals are considered carcinogens, despite the fact that it’s not yet clear how repeated exposure to them may cause cancer.

One of the biggest safety risks of e-cigarettes is the potential for their lithium-particle batteries to explode, sometimes into a person’s face or eyes. There is clearly a need for standards to make these batteries safer, he said.

Be that as it may, with everything taken into account, even if e-cigarettes involve some health risks, they are not more harmful than smoking cigarettes, thus anything that can get people far from tobacco is moving them in the correct direction, Siegel said. He believes that vaping gives people a safer alternative because in spite of the fact that users are still getting nicotine, they are getting lower levels of some of the harmful substances and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.

Eventually, the objective is to get people off vaping and to stop completely, yet people have to start somewhere. He also acknowledged that a large number of his colleagues in general health don’t share his conclusion. Rather, they view e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking conventional cigarettes, especially for youngsters, or as a method of getting nicotine that really diminishes people’s interest in stopping.

Glantz falls into this latter category. In an analysis he and a colleague published earlier this year, they found that grown-up smokers who use e-cigarettes are about 30 percent less likely to stop smoking than people who attempt to stop smoking without swinging to vaping. One possible explanation is that people may generally use e-cigarettes as a major aspect of a “taper-down” strategy, which is less effective than stopping immediately.

The unknowns about e-cigs

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Studies evaluating whether e-cigarettes are less hurtful than cigarettes have been inconclusive, as indicated by a review of studies published in the diary Tobacco Control in May 2014.

Moreover, the long haul health effects in people who get nicotine in a vaporized shape over time are not known. It’s also unclear whether propylene glycol, a known aggravation to the respiratory tract, could result in lung problems after decades of vaping.

Also, because e-cigarettes have been on the market for just about 10 years, there have been no long haul studies of people who have used them for 30 to 40 years. Therefore, the full extent of e-cigs’ effects on heart and lung health, as well as their cancer-causing potential, over time is not known, Glantz revealed to Live Science.

Another unanswered question is the way the flavorings used in the devices may affect people’s health. Nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigarettes are currently on sale, as indicated by the American Lung Association. This wide variety of flavors has helped make vaping appealing to youngsters.

It’s not yet known whether these flavorings have any respiratory effects when they are vaporized and inhaled. More research is needed to identify any hazards associated with the potential inward breath of enhancing agents.

Also, little is known about how the enhancing agents in e-cigarettes may influence nicotine’s addictive qualities.

More work needs to be done to understand the dynamics between smoking conventional cigarettes and furthermore using e-cigarettes in people who are double users. Future research also needs to take a gander at whether using both customary cigarettes and e-cigs interferes with the desire to stop, and whether using e-cigarettes is an effective strategy for stopping smoking compared with other methods, such as the nicotine fix and behavioral counseling.


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