Is vaping safe? Most people reading this know how hard it is to quit smoking. Many have probably tried more than once. And some are probably yet to find it out. Of course, the best way to do it is going cold turkey, but studies show that of millions of people trying to quit this way every year, only about 5% succeed. Not really an encouraging statistic, that’s for sure.
In the few years since e-cigarettes have made a sweeping appearance on the market, many smokers have replaced cigarette packs with their own pen-shaped substitutes. Vaping has proved to be an effective way to reduce nicotine intake, and eventually even completely abandon the practice of smoking. With the number of youth using e-cigarettes tripling in the last year, one can only question their safety.
But let’s take a step back. What does ‘safe’ actually mean and how can you quantify it for any product? Especially for something as controversial as vaping. I will, therefore, presume that the act of vaping will be as harmful or as safe as the sum of its parts. In order to find out just how much, we can review each of the components of an e-cig.
The substance that we inhale when vaping is called an ‘e-liquid’. So to answer our questions, first we should consider what’s in it.
Is E-liquid safe?
There are four main ingredients in e-liquids, first of which would be vegetable glycerin or VG for short. Usually manufacturers use organic VG, and this ingredient is used to create abundance of vapor. It is made out of palm or coconut oil, and is used in an array of everyday products. It is recognized as a safe substance by the FDA.
Next ingredient on the list is propylene glycol also known as PG. Since VG does not carry flavor well, PG is added in order to accentuate the flavorings. PG in itself is also used in asthma inhalers, and is safe to inhale when vaporized. However, many are purposefully mistaking it for diethylene glycol, the main ingredient of antifreeze. Wait, actually… You’d be surprised to find out that both substances are actually used in making antifreeze! The latter is A LOT more harmful than the former. This usually causes a lot of backlash regarding the safety of vaping, but we will get back to the media coverage of the phenomenon later on.
Then we have flavorings. They can be natural or artificial, and they give the specific taste the puff off of an e-cigarette will have. Recent studies have shown that might be the most nocive of all of these components. You’ll have to make sure that your e-liquid doesn’t contain Diacetyl, 2,3-Pentanedione, and Acetoin when purchasing. If unsure, choose a brand that specifically markets their juices as “Diacetyl free”.
Is nicotine safe?
The last of the main ingredients – the one that has probably turned you to the e-cigarette in the first place – nicotine. Generally, e-liquids will hold far less nicotine than a cigarette. Since the substance is not burned but rather vaporized, they will also deliver far less nicotine to the smoker’s system than a cigarette. However, e-cigarettes can contain varying amounts of nicotine, but the goal for the most people is to cut down the nicotine intake, eventually reaching zero mg. So once that is accomplished, there are only three main ingredients.
Nicotine is not inherently evil, as much as the media may think.
It’s proven to be addicting, that’s a fact, but what about poisonous? The research we have available indicates that the harmful effects of nicotine are not actually its fault but of the thousands of combustible carcinogens that are found in the cigarette. A study done on rats in 1996 indicates that even after nicotine was inhaled to an effect that is twice greater than that found in heavy smokers, the rats showed “no signs of microscopic or macroscopic lung tumors nor any increase in pulmonary neuroendocrine cells”. Further studies have shown that nicotine may even have beneficial properties. It may have the ability to relieve or prevent a variety of neurological disorders, including Tourette’s and schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, MCI (mild cognitive impairment). It might even improve attention and focus and could qualify as a cognitive enhancer.
As stated before, one thing to take into account is that there are also other ingredients. And with a myriad of manufacturers producing e-cigarettes, it is hard to keep track of everything that is inside our e-liquid. That is why it is important to do some research before you buy one.
Are the batteries safe?
Batteries are probably the number one culprit for media attention. Whenever you watch a video or go on a news website that is covering a mod explosion, this is the reason. Why? Most experienced vapers would tell you the same thing: because they’re batteries. Putting aside the fact that these are LiMn (lithium ion manganese oxide) or Li-Ion, high power, high drain, laptop-grade batteries, they are also often misused. Almost all of the incidents covered in the media are followed by comments that say “that’s a mech mod, he probably didn’t follow good battery safety” and they probably would be right.
If that is true most of the time, we can’t deny the inherent danger of proper use as well. Not to mention the huge amount of clones for each of the top-selling batteries out there, that not only give out less power but also are made with cheaper and fewer protections. However, as technology advances are made and more eyes are set on the industry, more and more batteries are made with safety in mind (i.e. “safe chemistry” ones). As it turns out, advances are made so fast that the batteries I am using right now are more powerful, safer and better and every other way than the ones made one year ago.
So should you be scared of one exploding in your hand? Yes. Will it happen? That’s pretty unlikely. What you can do is follow proper battery safety and, as with every consumer product, do your research before purchasing.
Vaping vs Smoking
Studies have shown that e-cigarettes do not emit many of the 7000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Furthermore, it has been estimated by a 2013 research paper that e-cigarettes are 9 to 450 times less ridden with toxins than a regular cigarette.
None of this however suggests that e-cigarettes are completely safe, but it just puts things into perspective. Because if we are considering dangers of vaping we have to compare it to a far more harmful habit – cigarette smoking.
There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today, and it seems that the number will only go higher. Make no mistake – even though cigarette consumption has dropped in the developed World, big tobacco companies still have many customers around the world, with over 350 million in China alone. Around half a million people die a year on account of tobacco, and many more suffer health issues and are hospitalized over it.
While cigarette smokers will actually feel the toll tobacco takes on their health very soon after picking up on the habit, vaping has very few obvious side-effects. One that is most frequent is a dry mouth, which can be easily remedied with an increased water intake. Other side-effects include dry skin, rashes, puff eyes and itchiness.
However, these are temporary conditions and usually go away by themselves. The strongest physical manifestation of vaping by far is the effect of nicotine – and the less of it you have in your e-liquid, the less it will influence you.
Is vaping safe? Depends who you’re asking
Since vaping is a fairly new trend, we still cannot be sure of its long term effects. But what scientists can firmly confirm is this: vaping is almost certainly less toxic and carcinogenic than smoking. Actually the U.S. Surgeon General as well as other experts have concluded that most of the ailments related to smoking are actually due to the combustion products of smoke, not to nicotine.
The uncertainty of the possible damages vaping can cause has provided the big tobacco lobbies to portray it as a hazard that is even more harmful than cigarettes. Of course, they have their reasons to do so since e-cigarettes are far more affordable than heavily taxed regular cigarettes, switching to one can prove to be beneficiary to your wallet, too. As we have seen in the example where one of the main ingredients of e-liquids was “mistaken” for the antifreeze matter, most of these reports will be spins made in order to make people scared of the “new kid in town”.
Unlike other traditional replacements such as gum or patches, vaping seems to be working for most people who are willing to do it daily. It might be due to the fact that smoking is more than just nicotine addiction. It is a ritual, a social gesture. From a pipe to an e-cigarette, blowing smoke has been a part of our culture for centuries and it is unlikely that it will be gone for good anytime soon.
However, even though it might be the safest option out there, vaping still cannot be deemed absolutely safe. No consumer product can. Prescription drugs, diet sodas, and just about everything that we consume is a potential danger to our health. But when we take into account that cigarettes are the most dangerous consumer product ever invented, we can wholeheartedly agree that vaping is a far healthier alternative.