It’s considered a “safer” alternative to smoking, but this federally funded American Month suggests that vapers have the same risk of heart disease as cigarette users.
A glance at social media will reveal a glimpse of Gen Z’s latest obsession with eclectically flavored smoking substitutes.
A scroll through TikTok will offer vendor accounts advertising a selection of the ‘bars’ on sale, with the tag ‘vapinguk’ racking up some 54,600 views; peanuts compared to 2.2 billion views on ‘#vaping’ and 16.6 million on ‘#vapingtricks’.
Additionally, a recent report from Action On Smoking And Health (ASH) found that this year, 7 percent of 11-17 year olds were current users compared to 3.3 percent in 2021 and 4.1 percent in 2020.
Meanwhile, next month the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), set up to ‘develop and promote the £1 billion vaping industry’, is hosting a forum and awards dinner.
Here, FEMAIL lists everything you need to know about the e-cigarette phenomenon, including health risks and other factors to consider.
What are electronic cigarettes?
The NHS defines an electronic cigarette as a “device that allows you to inhale nicotine in the form of a vapor instead of smoke.”
Many start vaping to quit smoking altogether or to moderate their habit because they find e-cigarettes less harmful.
E-cigarettes are safer because they don’t burn tobacco, produce tar, or carbon monoxide, but rather heat a liquid that contains nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and various flavorings.
There are different types and selections of these, including vape pens, sticks, and others, including refillable or disposable models.
Are vaporizers ‘better’ than smoking?
In particular, the US has seen a pushback on vaping due to concerns about health risks.
British health agencies have not been as strict with their advice. According to the NHS, while the law is “not completely risk-free”, it does pose a “small fraction of the risk of cigarette smoking”, adding that the long-term effects are still unclear.
Meanwhile, a 2020 blog post from the UK Health Security Agency suggested more research is needed and continued in practice.
He also said: “Our advice remains that people who smoke are better off switching to vaping completely, but if you’ve never smoked, don’t start vaping.”
While concerns have been raised about the harm nicotine in vapes can cause, the NHS says most of the harm from smoking comes from the “thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic” and warns that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has been widely used for many years.
However, while e-cigarettes are often marketed as healthy alternatives to typical cigarettes, they contain many harmful chemicals of their own.
E-liquids contain nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer, while flavored vapes often include diacetyl, an irritant that has been linked to the deadly condition “popcorn lung.”
What are the health risks of vaping?
Vaping was previously heralded as a safer alternative to cigarettes, which dramatically increase the risk of lung cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions.
But evidence in recent years suggests that electronic alternatives cause similar damage to the body.
A recent study in the US found that vaping and smoking cause people’s heart rates to skyrocket 15 minutes after use and put the body into “fight or flight” mode.
Both groups also suffered a constriction of the brachial artery, which is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the arms and hands.
High blood pressure and constricted arteries can starve the heart of oxygen-rich blood and, over time, increase the risk of heart disease.
In a second study, researchers conducted a series of cardiovascular tests after participants ran on a treadmill for 90 minutes.
Those who smoked or vaped performed significantly worse on all metrics, including how quickly heart rate recovered after exercise and how hard the heart had to work at peak levels.
Lead study author Dr Christina Hughey, from the University of Wisconsin, said: “The exercise performance of vapers was not significantly different from people who used combustible cigarettes, even though they had vaped for fewer years than smokers and were much younger.”
Co-lead author Matthew Tattersall, an assistant professor of medicine at the university, added: “Immediately after vaping or smoking, there were concerning changes in blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, and blood vessel tone (constriction).”
The results of both studies were presented at the 2022 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.
Meanwhile, speaking on This Morning, Dr Nighat Arif said she feels the UK is “quite far behind when it comes to understanding the risks of vaping”.
The GP noted that while it’s a good option if you’re trying to quit smoking, there’s a surge of teenagers adopting it as a lifestyle.
“I see a lot more young people doing it,” he said. They come in these beautiful bright colors, all flavors.
“My son goes to high school and when I pick him up and they’re walking down the street from school, I’d say every other kid that’s 14-15 or older is vaping.”
Dr. Nighat also noted that the dental consequences of vaporizers are rarely discussed due to the sweeteners used in them.
She explained: “I was talking to a dental colleague of mine recently and they were saying, ‘yeah, it’s a great alternative to quit smoking,’ but really what they’re seeing is that people who are vaping, because some people are using this now as a great lifestyle option, there are a lot of sweeteners that go into [it].’
The GP explained that this can cause a coating on the ‘tongue and on the teeth’, which can lead to gum disease.
What are the risks for young people?
However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against the dangers of e-cigarette use for children, adolescents, and young adults.
He cites a study suggesting that “nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into their mid-20s” and says that “young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.”
The CDC also criticizes the idea that the ‘e-liquid’ in vaporizers is harmless, saying the aerosol can contain harmful substances, including heavy metals and carcinogens.
However, the NHS site emphasizes that vapes in the UK are “strictly regulated” and that it is illegal to sell them to anyone under the age of 18.
However, a teenager recently told the evening standard who were just 13 years old when they first tried a vape, and the publication cited a rise in Gen Z culture flaunting the devices as part of their aesthetic, sometimes even pairing them with their outfits.
Last year there were also concerns that children are buying super-powerful vapes, equivalent to smoking 125 cigarettes, in a craze that is raising health fears. They are so powerful that young users reported prolonged nosebleeds, coughing up blood, headaches, chest pains, and dizziness.
At the time, more than 53,000 of the Geek Bars brand were being sold each week in stores, compared with around 2,000 in May 2021, despite many having more than double the legal level of nicotine, industry figures leaked to the Daily Mail showed.
In 2021, illegal super-powerful vaporizers, popular with children, were also being sold online disguised as Cadbury chocolates to fool concerned parents.
High-level smoking devices ElfBar and GeekBarPro, containing liquid with twice the legal strength of nicotine and three times the capacity, were being promoted on TikTok.
And in images sure to horrify chocolate giants Cadbury, its packaging was being exploited to sneak the banned devices to parents.
A video from a now-deactivated account featured the caption “Anyone’s Heroes” and then the vapes were packaged in the brand’s candy box.
A hand is then seen sprinkling some individually wrapped chocolates over the top to hide the misters and the package is placed in an envelope for mailing.
The disguise meant that if the parents opened the delivery, nothing would suggest that it was anything more than a sweet treat for their children.