E-Cigarettes’ Safety Claims Go Up in Smoke

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Marketed as the healthy alternative to cigarettes, they may not be as safe as you think…

E-cigarettes and vaping products have taken the market by storm in recent years by being marketed as a safer way of smoking, especially since Public Health England estimated that they are 95% less harmful than regular cigarettes. 

However as the use of e-cigarettes is still a relatively new phenomenon, little is known about the long-term health impacts and some scientists now advise users to halt their use of vaping devices and e-cigarettes altogether. 

While e-cigarettes are still endorsed in the UK by the NHS and Public Health England, scientists in the US have been conducting research as to the safety of these products. This research comes three years after a British teenager suffered a near fatal allergic reaction after using vaping equipment, and the results may make the NHS want to think again. 

E-cigarettes work by heating up a liquid to produce a vapour which is then inhaled, a method widely accepted as a much safer way of smoking than breathing in tobacco smoke from a regular cigarette, which contains harmful particulates of substances such as tar. However, e-cigarettes also contain numerous chemicals that are significantly lacking in research. Many of these have not been identified yet, not to mention the lack of research into how they may impact the body long-term.

Recent novel research from the US, released just last week, has identified at least 39 deaths and a further 2,000 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product-use associated lung injury (EVALI) across North America. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) took bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from 29 e-cigarette smoking patients with EVALI, and found the presence of vitamin E acetate in 100% of the samples.

Vitamin E acetate is an oil found in e-cigarettes containing THC, one of the active chemicals in marijuana, and is the potential cause of these fatal lung injuries according to the CDC. The research is the first of its kind to have identified a single chemical in e-cigarettes that could be causing harm to the body. Similar research by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September of this year also flagged vitamin E acetate as a potentially harmful component of e-cigarettes following previous cases of users becoming ill earlier this year.

E-cigarettes have also been linked in the past to other health disorders. For example, researchers at Boston University studied 476 smokers, non-smokers and e-cigarette users with no previous heart issues and found that high cholesterol was more common among e-cigarette users compared to non-smokers. Vaping may also affect the ability of the heart to pump blood around the body to a similar degree to that of smoking normal cigarettes. According to research at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, vaping actually has a greater impact on reducing blood flow than regular smoking.

While all of the aforementioned studies provide groundbreaking and essential research into a widely used but profoundly under-researched practice, there is still substantial uncertainty behind the links between e-cigarettes and health. 

The scientists behind these studies remain sceptical as to the extent of the association between smoking e-cigarettes and certain health defects, and warn of other potentially hazardous components that may not have been found yet.

Health professionals want users to be aware that there is no long-term data to confirm whether e-cigarettes and vapes are safe or dangerous and therefore recommend that users use FDA approved methods, such as nicotine patches and behavioural therapy, to quit smoking rather than switching to e-cigarettes.

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