Vaping – Help or Harm

Vaping — the common slang that describes using an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette. It’s been modeled as the far healthier smoking option and the number of young people using e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012.

But are they better for you? The research around the issue is inconclusive and sits at the centre of a great debate in the healthcare industry.


Safer than smoking

While there is much discussion around the health benefits of e-cigarettes, what is clear is that they are healthier than tobacco cigarettes. One of the primary hazards of smoking tobacco is the smoke that is inhaled. This is mitigated in e-cigarettes by the process that gave rise to the term ‘vaping’.

E-cigarettes are essentially battery-powered devices that vaporise a liquid mix of propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine at a relatively low temperature. This is contained within the device, and is also mixed with flavour and nicotine.

Because you are no longer inhaling smoke, the damage to your respiratory system decreases and this is recognised by many health organisations, including the Royal College of Physicians, as being a positive consequence of vaping. Because of this, e-cigarettes could assist with the reduction of the death toll from tobacco.


Risks and long-term effects

Where the issue of e-cigarettes becomes contested are around the long-term effects. Currently, there are many studies underway to determine the long term effects of e-cigarettes. Because the product is still relatively new — only a decade old — it is difficult to acquire any kind of consistent result yet.

If you’re a tobacco cigarette smoker, using an e-cigarette can be the healthier option but it is always best to consult with an expert on which model and make to use. The refill fluids can vary in their make and studies have shown that the toxicity levels can range from negligible to very high. The fact that further scientific research to assess unproven safety claims about vaping needs to be done is widely agreed upon by many leading public health organizations. However, testing done on various e-cigarette cartridges concluded that it contains potentially harmful chemicals, including diethylene glycol (a toxic chemical used in antifreeze), genotoxins, animal carcinogens, tabacco-specific nitrosamines and diacetyl (a butter flavouring that is suspected of causing serious lung damage to workers who manufacture microwave popcorn).

It is also critical to note that while vaping reduces the intake of smoke into the lungs, it does not at all manage the addictive quality of nicotine. Though you can get nicotine-free refills, ultimately, the core addictive quality of smoking remains, whether it’s tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes. Nicotine is not only highly addictive, but can also be toxic in high doses and care should be taken never to smoke any form of cigarette during pregnancy as this may harm the developing fetus and negatively impact adolescent brain development.

Second-hand exposure to smoke remains a concern and studies have shown that the distribution and number of particles delivered by e-cigarettes are similar to those of conventional cigarettes.

The vapours emitted from e-cigarettes are often mistakenly thought to be “water vapour”, but this is not the case and exposure to passive vaping could possibly pose health risks.


Making vaping ‘cool’

Perhaps the most immediate and critical concern around the rise in vaping and the prevalence of e-cigarettes in society is the way the product is marketed and perceived. The advertising around e-cigarettes is primarily directed at women and young people, peppered with misleading taglines and promoted by popular celebrities to make vaping look cool.

What is increasingly concerning is the fact that e-liquid is available in thousands of flavours, including flavours like fruit and candy (bubblegum, gummi bear, watermelon etc.)  that is appealing to children and young adolescents.

Many have called e-cigarettes the ‘gateway to tobacco’, arguing that the way the product is marketed has had a negative impact on smoking behaviours in general.

Smoking advertising on this scale has not been seen in decades, and it is worth noting that since advertising tobacco cigarette products has been banned, there has been a significant drop in the number of people who start smoking in the first place.


Still true: smoking is bad for you

At the end of the day, e-cigarettes are not a safe smoking option.

Yes, they are healthier than tobacco cigarettes, and are something that smokers can look into if they want to improve their habits and minimise the dangers of smoke inhalation, but e-cigarettes still have the same addictive property as tobacco cigarettes and thus, still present much of the same problems to society.

Being electronic does not make vaping any less smoking, and smoking is never going to be good for you.


Links / References:

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) – Position Statement On Tobacco Products. (November 2015). Retrieved from

Tobacco Control Legal Consortium – Regulating Electronic Cigarettes and Similar Devices. (October 2014). Retrieved from

Sky News – Doctors: Give Smokers E-Cigs To Help Them Quit. (28 April 2016). Retrieved from

News24 – 5 things you should probably know before vaping. (14 October 2014). Retrieved from

News24 – E-cigarettes – the slow way to poison yourself? (13 October 2014). Retrieved from

WebMD – E-Cigarettes 101. Retrieved from

The Ecig Alternative – The Electronic Cigarette Alternative. Retrieved from

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