What you need to know about vaping and its possible dangers


Vaping devices confiscated from students at an American high school. Teens and young adults are one of the target markets for the vaping industry. — AP filepic

I recently read a rash of articles about the ill effects of vaping. But I never really understood what it is. What is vaping?

Vaping is an act of inhaling and exhaling “vapour”. In this case, the vapour comes from the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette or something similar.

How is vaping different from smoking normal cigarettes?

When you smoke normal cigarettes or cigars, you are inhaling tobacco smoke. But an e-cigarette does not produce tobacco smoke. It produces an aerosol instead, which looks like water vapour, but isn’t.

The aerosol contains many fine particles and toxic chemicals, including a propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine-based liquid with nicotine. It is usually flavoured with chemicals and metals for different tastes.

Some people even use vaping devices to inhale other synthetic drugs and chemicals like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the compound contained in marijuana.

How did vaping come about?

Vaping was introduced to mass consumers in the United States in 2007. When it was first introduced, vaping companies (which may also be the same companies that produce cigarettes) sold vaping as a technology that could help cigarette smokers wean off cigarettes. Unfortunately, things didn't go as the marketing said. The focus seemed to shift to young non-smokers – teenagers in school or young adults – instead. These young people thought vaping was safer than cigarettes.

What types of vaping devices are there?

There are many types of devices under the vaping definition, such as:

● e-cigarettes – these look like the usual cigarettes

● Vape pens – these look like large fountain pens

● Personal vaporisers (MODS) – these are decorated, embellished and customised, and have become quite the fashion statement among vaping enthusiasts, as well as the “in” thing to look “cool”. This has also led to a rise in vaping and vaping shops.

● Newer vaping devices – these resemble a USB flash drive. They can be hidden easily, which is why they are popular with high (secondary) school students in the US.

A vaping device usually consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge containing the e-liquid or e-juice, and a heating component. The battery powers the heating component, which turns the e-liquid into an aerosol. In vaping, this aerosol is inhaled and exhaled into and out of the lungs.

Is vaping safer than smoking cigarettes?

Smoking cigarettes is extremely dangerous, and can lead to many diseases involving almost every major organ in the body, such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, strokes, peripheral artery disease etc. Vaping was considered “relatively” safer than cigarettes.

But this does not mean it is “safe” at all. In fact, more and more evidence suggests that it is incredibly destructive. We heard about the case of a young man having the lungs of a 70-year-old after just two years of vaping.

It takes many years for different types of diseases to develop, so cases may only be diagnosed in the future as vaping is a relatively new technology. Different vaping devices also deliver different levels of nicotine or other substances in different combinations. Naturally, different diseases might develop from these.

You have to remember that, as with smoking cigarettes, nothing is absolute about the human body. Just like some people who smoke cigarettes get lung cancer and others don’t, some people who vape will get diseases associated with vaping, and others may not. It is still early days now.

What sort of diseases can be caused by vaping?

These are some conditions that have been observed:

Seizures

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that there is an increased risk of seizures associated with vapers. This is because when you heat the liquid in a vaping device, high doses of nicotine can be delivered, as well as other chemicals.

Seizures have long been known to be an effect of nicotine poisoning. One particular type of e-cigarette has been discovered to deliver very high doses of nicotine. In fact, the company behind it says that one of its liquid pods can deliver as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes!

Cardiovascular diseases

The nicotine in e-cigarettes can cause the same damage as the nicotine in normal cigarettes. Nicotine increases adrenaline in our bodies, which then activates our sympathetic nervous system, the key system behind our “flight or fight” response.

This raises your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate, and constricts your skin arteries to deliver more blood to your big muscles (so that you can run away from the predator).

More and more research now shows vaping can damage your cells. Studies have now shown that there is an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and coronary artery disease from vaping. We’ll talk more about vaping in my next column.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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