Tobacco use dates back to at least 6000 B.C. Methods of consumption have changed dramatically over the years, but one fact remains the same: tobacco harms the body, and consuming it can lead to death. Currently more than 16 million Americans live with a disease caused by smoking and second-hand smoke exposure accounts for over 41,000 deaths in non-smoking adults and over 400 infants each year. Tobacco use also makes the immune system weaker and more susceptible to other chronic conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and more.
In recent years however, a different form of tobacco use has become widely popular, especially in younger demographics: Vaping.
There's a common misconception that vaping isn't harmful because it uses water as a base and has the user inhaling "vapor" rather than smoke. But the term "vapor" is misleading. Although a vape pen — or e-cigarette — utilizes water, it actually produces an aerosol, which contains harmful chemicals and particles that go deep into the lungs. Some of these aerosol ingredients include nicotine, diacetyl, cancer-causing agents and hard metals like nickel and lead.
Because vape pens are relatively new, studies are ongoing and the full impact on health isn't conclusively known yet. Recently however, the FDA approved the marketing of three new tobacco products, one of which is an electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) — which makes it the first time an electronic cigarette has been approved through the FDA's Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA). Part of the reason it was approved was because it demonstrated that it could be beneficial to adults who are trying to reduce or quit smoking. But this doesn't mean e-cigarettes are approved for recreational or new use. According to the CDC, a single cigarette emits over 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic and cancer-causing. Vaping aerosols generally contain less, but that doesn't make it safe.
Diacetyl, a common ingredient in many e-cigarette liquids, is a leading cause of what's been coined "popcorn lung". In the past, popcorn factories used this ingredient in their artificial butter flavoring, which caused illness in many workers. E-cigarette liquids that contain diacetyl can cause coughing, shortness of breath and inflammation in the lungs. Breathing is essential to life, so consuming tobacco (through any medium) should be avoided. If you don't smoke, don't start, and don't turn to alternative methods (such as vaping) for tobacco consumption without discussing options with your doctor first. If you're struggling to quit smoking or suffer from chronic conditions associated with smoking or vaping, you can find comprehensive and compassionate care from highly experienced lung specialists at El Camino Health.
This article first appeared in the November 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.