From adolescence on, health classes have dissuading youth from smoking cigarettes; everyone now knows that nicotine addiction, lung cancer and more are not only possible but probable outcomes of smoking cigarettes.
Although smoking cigarettes has declined from encompassing 21 percent of America’s teen and adult population to 15 percent in recent years, it remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Although the population of cigarette smokers is declining, the rising popularity of vaping might be offsetting this seemingly good news.
Inhaling any sort of vapor, usually from an electronic cigarette or a vape pen, is considered vaping. Vaping works differently than smoking, where the cigarette itself is burned. Vape pens and electronic cigarettes work by burning liquid, creating vapor. This makes the process of vaping and smoking look incredibly similar, but each is different and hold vastly different repercussions.
The first electronic cigarette was invented in the 1960s by Herbert A. Gilbert. Gilbert was attempting to create a device which could replicate the action of smoking without putting the same toxins into users’ lungs. The device saw little to no profit until Hon Lik, a pharmacist and avid smoker from Beijing, reinvented the product in 2003 as a potentially healthier alternative to smoking.
From 2003 to 2007, electronic cigarettes began taking hold of the world, but not without controversy. In March 2009, after worldwide debates and research projects attempted to uncover the true harm of smoking electronic cigarettes in comparison to regular cigarettes, the FDA banned imports of electronic cigarettes.
FDA-led tests of electronic cigarettes determined that carcinogenic and toxic substances, notably one used in antifreeze, resided in the content of electronic cigarettes. Trace amounts of nicotine were found even in the electronic cigarettes, which were advertised as nicotine free. The explanation for this lie? Electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, which is the source of nicotine in cigarettes. When electronic cigarettes burn liquid, nicotine, among other chemicals, is released.
Taking a closer look at the true nature of the statistics, it is evident that although overall cigarette usage in America has declined, tobacco use has remained steady. From 2014 to 2015, the number of teens who identified as vaping regularly increased from 2.46 million to 3 million. This suggests that electronic cigarettes are effectively replacing normal cigarettes, most likely due to the alluring flavored vaping liquids. A myriad of flavors exist, ranging from the generic, like strawberry lemonade, to the more obscure, like butterbeer. The fun flavoring, for many teens and adults, makes the act of vaping seem harmless, but that is a far cry from the truth.
Diacetyl is a leading chemical used in flavoring liquid for electronic cigarettes and vape pens. The chemical is also used in creating the buttery flavor of microwavable popcorn, but ingesting it orally has different effects than breathing it in.
Popcorn lung, formally known as bronchiolitis obliterans, became an epidemic of its own nearly a decade ago. Many employees working in factories which produced microwavable popcorn faced illness and even death after continually inhaling the diacetyl in the popcorn’s flavoring. Inhaling this toxic substance scarred the tiny air sacs in the workers’ lungs, leading to a buildup of scar tissue and narrowed airways. In order to prevent more workers from contracting the irreversible disease, many popcorn manufacturers made the decision to forego diacetyl in their recipes for safer alternatives.
Vaping puts users at a similar risk. Although replacing regular cigarettes with electronic counterparts might help avoid the development of lung cancer, vaping opens up a new world of different issues, with an irreversible lung disease topping the list.
But what does all of this really mean? On the surface, the history of electronic cigarettes is just a fragment of America’s long battle against cigarettes. As more facts regarding the true nature of electronic cigarettes arise, however, it’s becoming apparent that they are not merely part of the history of regular cigarettes — they’re a new kind of epidemic.
In the end, the message is clear: Just because vaping may be safer than smoking cigarettes doesn’t mean it’s without its own set of hazards.
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Fox.